The Cabinet minister has denied being involved in the decision after the MHRA began a probe into Mr Bourne’s firm Hinpack
Matt Hancock was facing fresh questions over his relationship with a publican handed Covid contracts worth £30million after WhatsApp messages between them suggested they were close friends.
The Health Secretary has been facing increasing pressure over the decision to give a vial production deal to Alex Bourne, the former landlord of his local pub.
The Cabinet minister has denied being involved in the decision after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) began a probe into Mr Bourne’s firm Hinpack.
But WhatsApp messages between the two, seen by the Guardian, show them joking around after the newspaper contacted them last November, about a story on the deal and their association.
Mr Hancock described the Guardian as ‘a rag’ in a message alerting Mr Bourne to the imminent story, to which the ex-landlord replied: ‘Matt Hancock – never heard of him.’
Mr Bourne crossed paths with the Health Secretary while running the Cock Inn in Thurlow, West Suffolk, and began producing millions of NHS Covid test vials during the pandemic.
Cambridgeshire-based Hinpack, which was originally a packaging manufacturer, won around £30million in work to supply a distributor contracted by the NHS with two million test tubes a week, as well as around 500,000 plastic funnels for test samples.
However the MHRA confirmed last month it has launched a probe into Mr Bourne’s company – which had no prior experience of making medical supplies prior to the pandemic.
Mr Hancock later defended the contracts, saying it would be ‘ridiculous’ to block friends of ministers from public contracts.
Asked about the deals won by Mr Bourne on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme after the probe was revealed, Mr Hancock said he ‘didn’t have anything to do with that contract’, despite claims by the ex-landlord that it came about after exchanging a personal WhatsApp message with the Health Secretary .
This has all been looked into in great detail, it’s only because of the transparency that I support that we can ask questions about these contracts, Mr Hancock added.
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