An ex-health minister admitted that he deleted WhatsApp and text messages regarding Covid testing contracts from the phone of his wife because he believed that there would be backup copies.

Lord Bethell said that the three seemingly contradictory explanations he provided to government lawyers about why the messages couldn’t produce were all wrong because they dealt with a phone he no longer used before the pandemic.

He set out the account in a witness statement for a High Court hearing over a legal challenge relating to deals for Covid tests worth £87.5million.

Lord Bethell, who was sacked in last month’s reshuffle, is said to have used his private email address thousands of times in relation to official business.

Former health minister Lord Bethell has admitted he deleted text and WhatsApp messages about Covid testing contracts from his phone because he wrongly believed there would be back-up copies. Pictured with Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Lord Bethell, former health minister, has confessed to having deleted WhatsApp messages and texts about Covid Testing contracts from his smartphone because he mistakenly believed that there would be back up copies. Pictured with Boris Johnson (Prime Minister).

He said he had done nothing wrong and insisted that using ‘modern technology’ to try to save lives was ‘appropriate’.

Lord Bethell’s use of his personal phone and private email has emerged as a result of a judicial review brought by the Good Law Project.

A series of contracts for the design, production and supply of antibody tests is being challenged, which were signed by Abingdon Health in York and the Department of Health and Social Care in April 2020.

The firm, which had recorded losses of £1.5million the previous year, received at least £19million of public money.

The Daily Mail reported in February that the main contract had been cancelled due to inaccurate tests.

Ministers are required to use Whitehall systems for government business. Official guidance states that they must copy any private email and other communications sent to them to ensure a complete record. Elizabeth Denham is currently investigating whether private emails are being used to perform official business.

Lord Bethell was said to have deleted messages with former health secretary Matt Hancock. He said that he ‘cannot recall for certain’ whether any of the messages concerned the antibody home testing contracts

Lord Bethell was said to have deleted messages with former health secretary Matt Hancock. He said that he ‘cannot recall for certain’ whether any of the messages concerned the antibody home testing contracts

The controversy over Lord Bethell’s phone emerged in August, when letters from the Government’s legal department said that after he confirmed he had sent the texts and messages relating to the deal from his phone, he first said he could not produce them because the handset had been ‘lost’.

A few days later, Lord Bethell said instead his phone was ‘broken’ or ‘defective’.

In a meeting, he admitted that he was also wrong and had handed the phone to his relative.

However, he now has a signed witness statement stating that he realizes that he purchased a new smartphone in November 2019 which he uses.

He explained that his previous one had a broken screen and a bad battery. It had been owned by a close family member.

It is unclear why messages sent via WhatsApp and text to Government Business are not being received.

His statement says his phone became ‘overloaded with data’, and so he often cleared messages to free up storage space.

Lord Bethell says: ‘I had activated the “back-up” function on WhatsApp. I thought it was a reliable archive and backup system.

‘However, I am informed that this may not be the case and that not all of my WhatsApp messages will necessarily be stored.’

The former minister’s statement says the problem was exacerbated by having two phones, his personal and a government one, and transferring messages between them.

He said after discussing this with government IT experts ‘I now understand that this may mean that not all of my WhatsApp messages will necessarily have been backed up.

It may also be possible that messages have been lost and threads broken when swapping my WhatsApp between phones’.

Some of the deleted messages involved Sir John Bell (pictured), who put the Abingdon test consortium together

One of the messages was deleted involved Sir John Bell (pictured), the man who created the Abingdon consortium for testing. 

The statement claims that some of the messages were sent by Sir John Bell and Matt Hancock, former health secretary, which helped to create the Abingdon consortium. It adds that he ‘cannot recall for certain’ whether any concerned the antibody home testing contracts.

After it was revealed that Owen Paterson, a scandal-hit Tory MP, made contact with Lord Bethell shortly before the outbreak. In April 2013, Mr Paterson had a conversation with Lord Bethell, Randox and other health professionals. This was shortly after Randox won the first Covid test contract.

Government sources said at the time it was merely a ‘courtesy call’. Last autumn Randox was awarded a £347million contract for Covid testing services.

A recent sleaze inquiry looking at Mr Paterson’s paid consultancy work for Randox did not consider this contact with Lord Bethell.

Jolyon Maugham QC, the Good Law Project’s director, said: ‘I make no allegations about what was or wasn’t on Lord Bethell’s phone.

‘But what I do know is that if there is incriminating evidence on private channels ministers have every reason – and because they are private channels every opportunity – to destroy it. Given the size of the spend on PPE and test and trace – almost £50billion – that is very worrying indeed.’

Lord Bethell said: ‘The Good Law Project’s opposition to the use of modern communications to collaborate on the national response to a global emergency of unprecedented proportions is utterly baffling.

‘It’s appropriate for modern technology to be used in government, underlining the importance of using all tools at your disposal.’

The Department of Health and Social Care refused to comment.

Government lawyers have found that Lord Bethell sent between 8400 and 33,000 emails to Covid related information from his private account.

A married father of four, 54-year-old Peer managed the Ministry of Sound nightclub and founded a PR agency.

He donated £5,000 to Mr Hancock’s leadership bid in 2019 and became a health minister nine months later. A parliamentary pass was also sponsored by him for Gina Coladangelo (the aide that had an affair)

Following a dispute over the use of his personal email address to discuss Covid contracts, he was fired in September.