The health minister is under scrutiny for the controversial award of £85m in contracts to Abingdon Health last year, for COVID-19 testing kits. The decision was made after a private meeting held by Lord Bethell with the firm, which he did not declare.
Bethell, a former lobbyist who founded Westbourne Communications, used his personal email, as well as texts and WhatsApp messages on his phone relating to Abingdon Health.
And yesterday the Good Law Project revealed that the Tory peer replaced his phone after being informed it might have to be searched for evidence in a judicial review into the contracts.
It stated that, at a court hearing held last week ahead of the judicial review that will take place later this year, the government had “admitted that some of Bethell’s dealings with Abingdon had been conducted via WhatsApp or text message, and were held only on his private mobile phone”.
Bethell had been informed by government officials in December 2020 that his phone may be searched for documents.
Just weeks later he replaced his mobile phone, without keeping or transferring data from his old device.
His phone would have provided documents relevant to the case, according to a letter sent from the Government Legal Department to lawyers working for the Good Law Project in June this year.
The letter stated: “Lord Bethell has confirmed that around six months ago his phone was broken and replaced, and that his new phone does not contain the Phone Data.”
It is not yet clear whether his texts and WhatsApp messages will be able to be retrieved, the letter added.
Bethell has been at the heart of a series of scandals over contracts relating to the pandemic, sometimes holding private, undeclared meetings with companies, and has been dubbed "Baron Fix-it" by The Sunday Times.
Earlier this year it emerged that he chose to use his personal email account to conduct Government business, despite Cabinet Office guidance that ministers should use official email accounts.
A close friend of Matt Hancock, Bethell is currently being investigated by the House of Lords Commissioners for Standards for helping to obtain a parliamentary pass for the then-Health Secretary's lover, Gina Coladangelo, last year.
Bethell is also under scrutiny by the Information Commissioner's Office, which is mounting an inquiry into the use of private correspondence channels in the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).
In a statement, the Good Law Project said that Bethell’s tenure 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”.
It added: “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.”
DHSC refused to comment.