Abingdon Health: A cover-up
Abingdon Health: A cover-up
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Latest: Aug. 4, 2021
Lord Bethell's phone
Lord Bethell is the Health Minister responsible for overseeing the award of Covid contracts. His time as Health Minister has been mired in controversy: from failing to declare meetings with firms tha…Read more
The Government suppressed an official report that proved there were issues with rapid antibody tests purchased by the Department of Health. Leaked emails reveal the Government blocked Public Health England from publishing their findings until after they could make an announcement that they had purchased one million antibody tests from Abingdon Health.
How did we end up with a Government minister claiming publicly that he is “thrilled by the RTC product, both for Britain and export markets around the world”, whilst at the same time sitting on an damning expert report?
The purchase of one million antibody tests from Abingdon Health has been shrouded in mystery, but what we do know lays bare serious failings in Government procurement.
The Government supported the creation of the UK Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC) back in April. The idea was that the companies and institutions involved, including Abingdon Health, would create a rapid antibody test. On 2nd June, Government awarded a contract worth £10million to Abingdon Health for the materials needed to produce the test. On 14th August, they handed Abingdon Health another contract worth a staggering £75million.
Despite these huge sums of money, Government seems to have ignored widely held concerns that these tests were not fit for purpose. So a £75million contract was awarded without competition, on the basis of profoundly flawed research. And when confronted with evidence of these flaws Government tried to suppress publication of that evidence.
These are serious charges and we have set out the publicly available evidence in this chronology, which we will update as more evidence is published.
To protect public money and to seek to encourage Government towards honesty, we have issued judicial review proceedings in respect of the Abingdon Health contract awards. Our case rests on the following grounds:
Government’s apparent failure to conduct any lawful or sufficient inquiry or evaluation of the accuracy of the rapid antibody tests.
The award of these contracts seemingly without any advertisement or competition between bidders
Good Law Project has instructed Joseph Barrett of 11KBW Chambers and Rook Irwin Sweeney. They will work considerably below market rates. 10% of the funds raised will be a contribution to the general running costs of Good Law Project. We will use any surplus to develop other litigation.
Good Law Project
Aug. 4, 2021
Lord Bethell's phone
Lord Bethell is the Health Minister responsible for overseeing the award of Covid contracts. His time as Health Minister has been mired in controversy: from failing to declare meetings with firms that won huge Government contracts, to using his personal email address to conduct Government business. Good Law Project has a particular interest in the role he played in the controversial award of lucrative contracts to Abingdon Health.
Last week in Court, we argued against the Government’s attempts to apply blanket redactions to documents relating to the Abingdon Health contracts. We were successful – an important step towards transparency.
But the hearing uncovered something more alarming. In sworn evidence, Government admitted that some of Lord Bethell’s dealings with Abingdon had been conducted via WhatsApp or text message, and were held only on his private mobile phone. If that was the case for Abingdon, why not other VIPs too?
What’s more, in December last year, Lord Bethell was told his mobile phone would be searched for documents relating to this case. Just weeks later, it seems, he ‘replaced’ his phone because, Government lawyers say, it was ‘broken’. They are now not sure it will be possible to retrieve the WhatsApp and text messages.
Lord Bethell has overseen the awarding of billions of pounds of public contracts. Information revealing how these contracts came to be awarded may now be lost – or even destroyed.
During the hearing, the Judge expressed alarm about the Government’s failure to preserve evidence and insisted the ‘Order’ he made at the conclusion of the hearing refer to the Government’s obligation to preserve relevant documents.
Our lawyers have written to the Government to demand answers. When did Bethell learn his phone would be searched? When did he report it as broken? What attempts were made to save crucial information from his old phone? If none, why not?
This Government seems allergic to scrutiny: redacting some documents, hiding others from public scrutiny via ‘confidentiality rings’, permitting Ministers to award billions in public money via private, as well as official, channels, and failing to protect evidence from destruction.
We are taking action to close this accountability gap. If you're in a position to do so, please consider donating to support this challenge.
Good Law Project
June 7, 2021
It is in the public interest
We are pleased to tell you the Court has granted us a costs capping order in this judicial review.
A few months ago, Government informed us of its estimated costs for the hearing, a two-day judicial review. It told us it was planning to incur costs of £770,000.
We are becoming all too used to Government’s elevated costs estimates. We immediately asked the Court for a costs capping order to ensure that we could continue with the case. Government insisted its costs were reasonable and appropriate.
After hearing from both sides, the Court stated that Government’s estimated costs “are too high for a two-day judicial review”. It has now ordered that there should be a cap on the costs of both sides of £170,000.
The Court also found that these issues are important to be litigated, saying that “the contracts are very valuable indeed and such matters are in the public interest to be determined by the courts.”
Nonetheless, if we lose the case, we will still be liable for our own costs as well as those of the Government. And the costs cap imposed, while a far more reasonable sum than Government’s untrammelled costs, is still more than we have raised so far.
The case will be heard in the autumn this year. If you are able to donate to support our challenge, please consider doing so.
Good Law Project
April 8, 2021
We're going to court
Last week, the High Court granted permission to advance our case against Government for its award of contracts to Abingdon Health for rapid antibody tests. The deal with Abingdon Health has been marred by controversy since the very beginning, with Government suppressing reports that raised the alarm around the effectiveness of the tests and ignoring their own legal advice on the lawfulness of the contracts.
The High Court has now agreed that we can argue our case on the following grounds:
- there was apparent bias in the award of contracts by Government, given the role the Government’s own scientific advisor Professor Sir John Bell played in securing the deal for Abingdon Health. The Judge observed that Professor Sir John Bell was on ‘both sides of the contract’, given his role both as a key Government advisor and also as a significant figure in the UK Rapid Testing Consortium, which acted as subcontractor to Abingdon Health;
- Government awarded the contracts to Abingdon Health unlawfully by giving preferential treatment to Abingdon Health because it was a British company;
- the decision to award the contracts to Abingdon Health breached the obligations of equal treatment, transparency and proportionality because Government failed to undertake any transparent or lawful process at all in respect of the award of the contracts;
- the contract awards led to the grant of unlawful state aid (including Government subsidies for research and components), for which no justification whatsoever has been put forward;
- Government acted irrationally when awarding contracts to Abingdon Health. In particular, the first contract stated that the tests had to be tested and deemed fit for use by the regulator by a certain date. The date came and went without the tests being validated, yet Government pressed ahead with another contract.
The full transcript of the judgment can be found here.
Until now, Government has refused to engage meaningfully with our case. It was noted several times by the Judge that it was not possible to consider points in detail because of the lack of evidence provided by Government. But the Court’s decision last week means that Government will no longer be able to fob us off. In particular, it will be forced to disclose details of the decision-making process – and the role of Professor Sir John Bell – as part of these proceedings.
It is perhaps not surprising then that Government is once again estimating an eye-watering bill to defend this case – around £670,000. Despite these huge costs, we will not be deterred. We have applied for a cost capping order so we can continue to push for answers.
This deal has been shrouded in mystery since the very beginning. If you are in a position to donate to the legal challenge, you can help uncover the truth.
Good Law Project
Feb. 12, 2021
Another extraordinary revelation in our Abingdon case
We recently revealed Government had cancelled all orders with Abingdon Health for antibody lateral flow tests because it had failed to gain approval from the MHRA for home use of those tests.
This week, an explosive story in the Daily Mail revealed that “On April 6, Mike Batley, the Department of Health and Social Care’s deputy director of research, wrote to senior colleagues warning that although Lord Bethell and Mr Hancock already seemed to have approved the deal, ‘this all happened over the weekend without any engagement with us’. It was, he added, ‘no way to do business’.’”
You can read the full story here.
We have long thought the award of contracts to Abingdon Health was unlawful. That is why, some months ago, we took the decision to bring judicial review proceedings. However, Government continues to resist those proceedings and so we must continue to pursue them.
It’s only possible to take on this case thanks to the support of hundreds of people.
Good Law Project
Jan. 27, 2021
Another remarkable update on this case.
On 21st January, Government wrote to our lawyers to say that they had cancelled, with immediate effect, all outstanding orders placed with Abingdon Health for antibody lateral flow tests, because they had failed to gain approval from the MHRA for home use of those tests.
Government also confirmed that they won’t be placing any more orders under their existing contract with Abingdon Health.
Abingdon Health did not disclose this to the market when it issued a trading update yesterday.
The letter from the Government Legal Department can be read here.
We expect to make further, shocking, disclosures about Government and Abingdon’s conduct in this case over the coming period. It’s only possible to take this case thanks to the support of hundreds of people.
Good Law Project
Dec. 22, 2020
They're trying to rewrite history
So much, so very much, is wrong with the Government’s decision to contract with Abingdon Health.
As we understand matters, Government gave, without competition, substantial public contracts to develop Covid-19 antibody tests to a company which had no tests, ignoring established operators. We believe these contracts were worth £85m but it’s proving hard to pin Government down. Government took a cut of the revenues from the tests, which didn’t do what they were supposed to, and Government has – there’s no polite way to put this – lied about what it did.
The detail of those allegations is contained in our detailed grounds and my witness statement. They make for startling reading – and I encourage you to read them. But we want to focus here on what looks to me like Government’s stark attempt to rewrite history.
The Government’s National Testing Strategy has five “pillars”. Pillar 3 is described as “Mass-antibody testing to help determine if people have immunity to coronavirus.” And Pillar 4 is “Surveillance testing to learn more about the disease and help develop new tests and treatments.”
On 8 April 2020 Government put out a Press Release which stated:
“A business consortium, UK Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC), including Oxford University, Abingdon Health, BBI Solutions and CIGA Healthcare has launched, in order to design and develop a new antibody test to determine whether people have developed immunity after contracting the virus.”
Government then issued two “contract award notices” announcing spending with Abingdon. The first, giving a figure of £10.3m, was in respect of an award of 2 June 2020 and said:
“Provision of components and materials for lateral flow test kits for Covid-19 for use as part of the UK Covid-19 Testing strategy in support of Pillar 3 – antibody testing.”
The second, on 14 August, giving a figure of £75m, you can see here and it says:
“Provision of lateral flow test kits for COVID-19 for use as part of the UK Covid-19 Testing strategy in support of Pillar 3 – antibody testing.”
However, a Government press release of 6 October announcing the purchase of 1 million tests from Abingdon said:
“British-made antibody testing kits will support nationwide surveillance studies to track the spread of COVID-19 in the population.”
Which is pillar 4. The reasons for that after the event switcheroo are likely to be that the test was not as accurate as key Government advisors had previously indicated, a fact that was both anticipated, and which Government had sought to suppress.
But here’s the bad bit.
On 12 November 2020, Abingdon Health issued a press release which contained a statement from the Department for Health in the following terms:
“This report shows these tests are approved for use in surveillance studies, which is what they were purchased for.”
“They were never intended for, and have never been issued for widespread public use and it is misleading and unnecessarily inflammatory to purposefully ignore this fact in the report.”
It might be convenient to try and rewrite history. It might suit both Abingdon and Government to pretend that the tests purchased were not antibody tests under Pillar 3. It might spare both sides’ embarrassment. It might be convenient – but the facts show it isn’t true.
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