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Matt Hancock’s stay at Randox’s founding residence revealed at FoI | Matt Hancock

Former Secretary of Health Matt Hancock was accommodated on a country estate owned by Chief Randox, a medical company that hired MP Owen Paterson as a consultant.

During a two-day visit to Northern Ireland as Secretary of Health in 2019, Hancock had a private dinner and stayed overnight at Dundarave Country Farm in County Antrim, owned by Peter Fitzgerald, the founder of Randox.

The overnight stay was published in documents published under the Act on Free Access to Information. It was not included in the official register of hospitality received by the ministers.

Through a spokesman, Hancock said he did not have to declare hospitality because he did not accept it as minister. However, proponents of transparency 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 raised almost £ 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 last year after using 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. During the pandemic, Paterson directly lobbied for Hancock named Randox. After Paterson’s lobbying, Hancock pursued his officials and said he was “very concerned” about how his department treated Randox and other companies.

During a visit to Northern Ireland in 2019, Hancock met three companies, including Randox, which were paying Paterson as their consultant at the time. 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 Hancock inviting Randox to dinner and overnight at Fitzgerald’s Dundarave mansion during his visit.

The seat of County Antrim is described as “beautiful” in a beautiful setting “with a” gentle Italian residence in the heart “.

On March 21, 2019, Hancock visited Randox Laboratories in Belfast. An e-mail 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 SoS will visit again before joining us for a private dinner and overnight that evening. ”

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

Both companies paid Paterson a total of £ 61,000 a year to be their consultant at the time.

The rules governing the conduct of ministers, known as the Ministerial Code, stipulate that when politicians accept hospitality in a ministerial capacity, details should be published through a register that is published regularly. Official guidelines refer to company dinners as a type of hospitality that should be declared if accepted as a minister.

Hancock’s spokesman, James Davies, said it was not necessary to declare a private dinner and overnight stay at the founder of Randox because it was political rather than departmental.

“Everything has been properly and properly declared,” Davies said, adding that the relevant sections of the Ministerial Code are “the responsibility of the ministry.” If they consider a political event, then this is not the case. Maybe you should talk [the Department of Health and Social Care]rather than Mr. Hancock. “

He continued: “Staying overnight is perfectly fine. It was a political dinner, and Mr. Hancock met many [Northern Ireland] politicians, including Robin Swann, another relationship that became critical in response to the pandemic. It’s absurd to say there was something wrong with that. “

This interpretation of the rules has been challenged by Rose Whiffen, a researcher at Transparency International UK who obtained the documents. She said: “When ministers accept hospitality, especially from political donors, there is a clear expectation that it should be declared a matter of public record.

“When the Secretary of State is unsure whether he must report drinking and eating in accordance with the Ministerial Code, it is always better for him to make mistakes on the side of caution and thus follow the overriding spirit of the rules.”