Matt Hancock’s Stay at Randox Founder’s Mansion Revealed by FoI Request | Matt Hancock

Former health secretary Matt Hancock spent the night on a country estate owned by the head of Randox, the health care company that had hired MP Owen Paterson as a consultant.

During a two-day visit to Northern Ireland as Health Secretary in 2019, Hancock ate a private dinner and spent the night at the Dundarave country estate in County Antrim, which is owned by Peter Fitzgerald, Randox’s founder.

The accommodation was revealed in documents released under the Freedom of Information Act. It was not included in the official register of hospitality received by ministers.

Through a spokesman, Hancock said he did not need to declare the hospitality as he had not accepted it as minister. But transparency advocates disagreed, saying there was a “clear expectation” that ministers should declare such hospitality and follow the spirit of the rules.

Questions have been raised about the relationship between Randox and the Conservative Party after the company was awarded nearly £ 500 million in public funds during the Covid pandemic for testing.

Randox also hired Paterson as a consultant and paid him £ 100,000 a year. Paterson resigned from Parliament last year after taking advantage of his position as a Member of Parliament to lobby for his clients, including Randox.

Randox donated £ 160,000 to the Conservative Party between 2010 and 2018. Paterson directly lobbied Hancock on behalf of Randox during the pandemic. After Paterson’s lobbying business, Hancock chased his officials, saying he was “very concerned” about how his department treated Randox and other firms.

During his visit to Northern Ireland in 2019, Hancock met with three companies, including Randox, which at the time paid Paterson to be their consultant. Official documents obtained by Transparency International UK under the Freedom of Information Act suggest that Paterson was partially involved in organizing Hancock’s visit.

They also show how Hancock was invited by Randox to dine and spend the night at Fitzgerald’s Dundarave property during his visit.

The County Antrim property is described as “magnificent … in glorious surroundings” with “a fine Italian mansion in the heart.”

On March 21, 2019, Hancock toured Randox’s Laboratories in Belfast. An email sent to the health department, which appears to have been written by a Randox employee, said: “Understand SoS [secretary of state] will be with us, Randox Science Park … Then take SoS for other visits before joining us for a private dinner and spending the night. ”

On the same day, Hancock paid a number of other official visits, among others at Ulster hospital. He also attended a forum to discuss health and food. Two of the speakers were from Devenish, a company that makes animal feed, and Lynn’s Country Foods, a company that makes meat products.

The two firms at the time paid Paterson a total of £ 61,000 a year to be their consultant.

The rules of conduct of ministers, so-called ministerial law, say that when politicians accept hospitality in a ministerial function, the details must be published through a register that is published regularly. Official guidance identifies dinners given by companies as the type of hospitality to be declared if received as a minister.

Hancock’s spokesman James Davies said there had been no need to declare the private dinner and overnight stay at the Randox founder’s property because it was political rather than departmental.

“Everything was declared correct and appropriate,” Davies said, adding that the relevant sections of the Ministerial Act were “a departmental responsibility. If they judge an event politically, then this does not apply. Maybe you should talk to [the Department of Health and Social Care]rather than Mr Hancock. “

He continued: “Overnight is just fine. It was a political dinner and Mr Hancock met many [Northern Ireland] politicians including Robin Swann, another issue that became critical of responding to the pandemic. It is absurd to say that there was anything wrong with this. “

This interpretation of the rules was disputed by Rose Whiffen, a research fellow at Transparency International UK, who obtained the documents. She said: “When ministers accept hospitality, especially from political donors, there is a clear expectation that this should be declared and a matter of public registration.

“When a foreign minister is unsure whether they have to report that they are being eaten and eaten under the ministerial law, it is always better for them to err on the side of caution and follow the overriding spirit of the rules in doing so. “

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