The Conservative peer Michelle Mone has been accused of sending a racist message to a man of Indian heritage who alleged in an official complaint that she told him he was “a waste of a man’s white skin”.
The phrase was allegedly used in a WhatsApp message sent by the Tory member of the House of Lords in June 2019 during a disagreement following a fatal yacht crash off the coast of Monaco.
The message was part of a series of WhatsApp exchanges, screenshots of which have been sent to the House of Lords commissioner for standards as part of a complaint alleging that Lady Mone sent racist and abusive messages.
The Guardian has seen the complaint and screenshots of the exchanges, in which Mone also appears to make derogatory remarks about the mental health of the man’s partner, describing her as a “mental loony” and “nut case bird”. The commissioner responded that he was unable to investigate Mone because the messages were not sent in the course of her parliamentary duties.
Contacted by the Guardian, a representative of the Tory peer initially said: “Baroness Mone is 100% not a racist. Baroness Mone and her husband have built over 15 schools in Africa in the past three years.”
Her lawyers later provided another statement in which they said Mone had “no access” to the messages and no “detailed memory of them”.
“She is not prepared to comment on the messages unless and until their authenticity has been confirmed but Baroness Mone, in any event, very strongly denies that she is a racist, a sexist or that she has a lack of respect for those persons genuinely suffering with mental health difficulties.”
The statement added that it was “as illogical as it is inconceivable that she could or would have made such a comment or made it with the slightest racist intent” as, at the time, she had no knowledge that the complainant “was anything other than white British, as his appearance is 100% white, with a cut-glass English accent”.
Mone was appointed to the House of Lords by David Cameron in 2015, a year after selling an 80% stake in her Ultimo lingerie company. She was then selected to lead a government review on entrepreneurship. Iain Duncan Smith, then work and pensions secretary, said at the time: “There’s no one I can think of that’s better qualified to help young entrepreneurs from deprived backgrounds to turn a good idea into a flourishing business.”
In separate correspondence, her lawyers also said their client believed at the time that the man had “no trace whatsoever of non-white colouring or any features” that would suggest he was not “100% white and British”.
The yacht crash occurred in late May 2019, at the end of a day that Mone and her husband, the Isle of Man-based businessman Douglas Barrowman, had spent socialising on their boat with friends and guests who had arrived on another yacht. As their friend’s yacht was departing to head back to shore in Monaco, it crashed into Barrowman’s and a crew member was killed.
In the weeks following the collision, Mone appears to have become embroiled in a disagreement on WhatsApp with the man of Indian heritage, who describes his appearance as brown-skinned, who had been a guest on the other boat along with his partner.
According to the complaint, on 13 June 2019 Mone used a WhatsApp group to question whether the man’s partner had genuinely suffered psychologically after the accident, claiming that she had been partying “only a few days after”.
The man replied that his partner had been seriously traumatised by the yacht incident, adding: “I would prefer you back the fuck off.”
According to the complaint and the WhatsApp screenshots, the Tory peer then said: “OMG what a pile of crap!! You are talking to me, a smart, bright individual who doesn’t get taken in by your shit! In fact my bullshit detector was on you from day 1. You & your mental loony of a girlfriend have been parting [sic] like mad! … You need to get a grip and have respect for a guy that was killed!!! Funny how your mad girlfriend has now deleted all the pictures, don’t worry I have screenshots of the dates and times. 48 hours after the guy was killed. Your [sic] a low life, a waste of a mans [sic] white skin so don’t give us your lies. Your [sic] a total disgrace.”
She added: “Now you deal with the police enquiries including your nut case bird.”
The man sent an immediate reply in which he said: “A waste of a white mans skin? Did not know you were racist, Michelle.” Fifteen minutes later, Mone said: “Your [sic] blocked and take your mental case to the police station.”
Responding to questions from the Guardian, Mone’s lawyers also questioned the motives of the complainant, who is a financial consultant who briefly worked for Barrowman. Seeking to cast doubt on the authenticity of the messages, they suggested they were “written in a manic way, in keeping with someone with coherency issues, rather than from a well-educated and articulate Baroness”.
The complainant, who does not want to be named, made a complaint to Martin Jelley, the Lords commissioner for standards, in August 2021. The document alleges that Mone’s conduct in the WhatsApp messages amounted to bullying and harassment, arguing that the messages were “derogatory and racist” towards him and “abusive and derogatory” towards his partner’s mental health.
Jelley replied that he could not investigate because the Lords code of conduct, which incorporates the “Nolan principles” for people in public life, applies only to members “in the course of their parliamentary duties and activities”.
The commissioner informed Mone that the complaint had been made, but that it would go no further. Contacted by the Guardian, Jelley said the Lords code prevented him from confirming or denying information regarding the complaint.
A House of Lords spokesperson said: “Where a complaint does not relate to a member’s parliamentary duties, it is not covered by the code or the remit of the commissioner for standards.”
The complainant subsequently wrote to the Committee on Standards in Public Life, an advisory body to the prime minister, arguing that this case suggested the Lords code was not fit for purpose as it “takes no notice of its members’ conduct outside of the house, however reprehensible.”
The Guardian’s publication of Mone’s WhatsApp messages will add to existing questions about her conduct. Last week Labour called for an investigation into Mone’s involvement in the award of £203m-worth of government contracts to a company, PPE Medpro.
Mone repeatedly denied last year any association with the company. However, it emerged earlier this month that she had referred PPE Medpro to the government as a potential supplier. Her lawyers have maintained that all her statements in relation to PPE Medpro were true.