Force considers next steps amid warning stance on alleged breaches is sapping public trust in policing
Last modified on Tue 11 Jan 2022 21.12 GMT
The Metropolitan police have been accused of “deferring to the powerful” by not investigating Downing Street parties held in apparent breach of lockdown rules.
The force on Monday said it was in touch with the Cabinet Office in light of “widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on 20 May 2020”.
The statement came after the leak of an email from one of the prime minister’s top officials inviting more than 100 Downing Street staff to a “bring your own booze” party during the first coronavirus lockdown.
One senior police source with close knowledge of the regulations said the May 2020 gathering in the garden of No 10 organised by the prime minister’s aide was a clear breach of the regulations in force at the time. “A booze-up in the garden is not in keeping with the regulations,” they said.
Jane Connors, the acting deputy assistant commissioner, who leads for the Met on coronavirus enforcement, was on Tuesday considering the Met’s next steps, and whether the force needed to abandon its policy of not retrospectively investigating alleged Covid breaches, amid warnings the stance is sapping public trust in policing.
The Met is also facing court action to try to force it to justify its failure to act. The Good Law Project said it had started legal proceedings over the Met’s refusal to investigate reports of a Downing Street party on 18 December 2020.
The campaign group said that in letters between it and the Met, police said they had “relied on the government’s assurances that no rules had been broken” and “there would have been no point in interviewing Number 10 staff about the parties because they would have refused to answer questions that exposed them to a risk of prosecution”.
Jolyon Maugham, the director of the Good Law Project, said: “You can have the rule of law, or you can defer to the powerful. But you can’t have both. Cressida Dick’s cat will know that multiple criminal offences were committed. It shames the Met, and ultimately all of us, that she refuses to investigate.”
The Met faces further questions about whether its officers knew of the May 2020 gathering as it took place and potentially could have taken action then.
The Green party peer Lady Jones said the invitation to the May 2020 garden party, sent by Johnson’s top aide, Martin Reynolds, was troubling. “This garden party raises big questions for the Met police, as their officers must surely have monitored this gathering via their security cameras and been aware of the rules in place at the time,” she said.
“The police are losing public trust with their attitude that there are lots of rules for us and no rules for Conservative ministers. Did Martin Reynolds consult with Met police officers about the Covid restrictions, or inform them of the event?”
The Met have so far said only that they are aware of the latest revelations and in touch with a Cabinet Office inquiry conducted by the senior civil servant Sue Gray. She could choose to refer matters to the police, it is understood.
The force is mindful that any penalty for a breach would only be a fine, but parliament did give it the power to investigate allegations up to three years after they took place. For other relatively minor offences the time limit is six months.
Downing Street said Gray’s inquiry would be “paused” if the police decided to conduct their own investigation.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson on Tuesday said: “I think the Cabinet Office has been clear that they’re in contact with the police and obviously the police have the ability to start an investigation should they see fit to do so.
“That would then pause the work that has been done by the Cabinet Office team.”