Mrs Justice O’Farrell has ordered a fresh trawl of internal communications over the deals, as well as messages about the establishment of a VIP lane for firms with political connections seeking contracts.
At Thursday’s hearing, it emerged that a WhatsApp group of 200 CEOs and a similar channel to senior procurement executives were used to spread information on PPE deals that might be available.
Any firm entering the VIP lane could expect a reply “within the hour”, while companies without connections received a delayed response or no reply at all.
The court heard how civil servants complained of “drowning” in VIP requests, and that the priority lane was “obstructing” other viable offers of PPE.
It was revealed yesterday that confectionary firm Clandeboye, clothing manufacturer Meller Designs, Luxe Lifestyle – trading in “specialised design activities” – and P14 Medical were all in the VIP lane, receiving contracts worth more than £350m.
The government has so far resisted calls to reveal the names of all 47 firms which secured contracts through the VIP lane, as well as the names of politicians who promoted them.
The judge ruled the phones of seven key officials should be searched for messages relevant to the case, while also ordering a trawl for documents showing ministerial knowledge of “the establishment and criteria for selecting potential suppliers for the high-priority lane”.
The government denies the Good Law Project’s claim that contracts were awarded unlawfully. A full hearing is expected on May 17.