The Metropolitan Police have been accused of “deferring to the powerful” by failing to investigate Downing Street parties held in apparent violation of the lockdown rules.
The force said Monday it was in contact with the Cabinet Office in light of “widespread reports of alleged violations of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20, 2020”.
The statement came after an email leaked from one of the Prime Minister’s top officials inviting more than 100 Downing Street employees to a ‘bring your own booze’ party during the first coronavirus lockdown.
A high-ranking police source with close knowledge of the regulations said the May 2020 rally in the Garden of No 10 organized by the Prime Minister’s assistant was a blatant violation of the regulations in force at the time. “An alcoholic drink in the garden does not comply with the regulations,” they said.
Jane Connors, the acting Assistant Deputy Commissioner, who heads the Met on Coronavirus Enforcement, was reviewing the Met’s next steps on Tuesday, and whether the force were to abandon its policy of not retrospectively investigating alleged Covid violations, amid warnings that the position undermines public confidence in law enforcement.
The Met is also facing legal action in an attempt to force it to justify its inaction. The Good Law Project said it has taken legal action over the Met’s refusal to investigate reports of a Downing Street party on December 18, 2020.
The campaign group said in letters between itself and the Met, police said they had “relied on assurances from the government that no rules had been broken” and “that he would have it was useless to question the personnel of number 10 about the parties because they would have refused to answer questions which put them at risk of prosecution ”.
Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said: “You can have the rule of law, or you can rely on the powerful. But you can’t have both. Cressida Dick’s cat will know that several criminal offenses have been committed. It shames the Met, and ultimately all of us, that she refuses to investigate.
The Met face further questions as to whether its officers were aware of the May 2020 rally as it took place and potentially could have taken action at that time.
Green Party colleague Lady Jones said the May 2020 garden party invitation, sent by Johnson’s main aide, Martin Reynolds, was disturbing. “This garden party raises big questions for the Met Police, as surely their officers must have monitored this gathering through their security cameras and be aware of the rules in effect at the time,” she said.
“The police are losing public trust with their attitude that there are a lot of rules for us and no rules for Conservative ministers. Did Martin Reynolds consult with police at the Met about the Covid restrictions, or brief them on the event?
So far, the Met has only said it is aware of the latest disclosures and in contact with a Cabinet Office investigation by senior official Sue Gray. She could choose to go to the police, that’s understood.
The force is aware that any sanction for a violation would only be a fine, but parliament has given it the power to investigate the allegations for up to three years after they took place. For other relatively minor offenses, the time limit is six months.
Downing Street said Gray’s investigation would be “put on hold” if police decided to conduct their own investigation.
The Prime Minister’s official spokesperson said on Tuesday: “I think the Cabinet Office has made it clear that they are in contact with the police and obviously the police have the option of opening an investigation if they do. find it useful.
“This would then pause the work being done by the Cabinet Office team.”