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Police face questions over how officers guarding Downing Street missed party Boris Johnson attended



The Metropolitan Police is facing demands for an explanation of how officers guarding 10 Downing Street could have been unaware of the “bring your own booze” garden gathering.

Baroness Jones is to write to the force and the national police watchdog to ask whether officers witnessed the event on 20 May 2020, and if so whether they reported it.

“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,” the Green Party peer told The Independent.

“Did [Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary] Martin Reynolds consult with Met Police officers about the Covid restrictions, or inform them of the event? I will ask for this to be included in the follow-up to my previous complaint about police inaction.”

Access to Downing Street is controlled by the Met’s parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, while close protection officers are also assigned to Boris Johnson and senior ministers.

A spokesperson for the force declined to comment, and said the positioning and role of officers in the prime minister’s residence was a security matter.

Baroness Jones lodged a previous complaint in December, which asked how the “extensive police presence at 10 Downing Street” had responded to an alleged Christmas party on 18 December 2020.

“If there was an unlawful gathering taking place at 10 Downing Street, then the police must have known,” the complaint said.

It called for officials to determine whether officers had “aided and abetted a breach of the law” by allowing access to the social gathering, and to investigate whether there was a “broader culture of police officers excusing unlawful activity by government ministers and their staff”.

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The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has referred the matter to the Metropolitan Police’s Directorate of Professional Standards.

The watchdog said the complaint was “invalid”, because in order for a complaint to be considered, complainants must have been “adversely affected by the alleged conduct or its effects”.

“There was nothing within the referral to indicate [Baroness Jones] was physically present or nearby when officers stationed at Downing Street allegedly failed to enforce Covid rules,” a spokesperson added.

“Nor is there a suggestion that [she was] physically present or sufficiently nearby when the effects of the officers’ alleged actions occurred.

“Having fully assessed the referral we have decided it is invalid and we have returned it to the Metropolitan Police to handle as it determines would be appropriate.”

The IOPC said it had reminded the force of its obligation to refer cases “if evidence were to come to light that anyone serving with the police may have breached standards of professional behaviour or committed a criminal offence, linked to the alleged party”.

Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary invited 100 people to a party in the garden behind No 10 during England’s first lockdown

(PA)

The Metropolitan Police has not launched a criminal investigation into the Christmas party allegations or Downing Street’s “bring your own booze” event, as it awaits the results of Sue Gray’s investigation.

The Independent understands that the force is in close contact with the Cabinet Office over its investigation, and plans to decide on further steps after assessing the outcome.

Scotland Yard is separately conducting enquiries into an alleged Christmas party held at Conservative Party headquarters in 2020, but has not made any arrests.

In the face of mounting criticism, sources insisted the force has approached all retrospective reports of potential coronavirus offences in the same way, including a rule-breaking dinner party attended by Jeremy Corbyn that did not result in fines.

Campaign group the Good Law Project has issued formal legal proceedings against the Metropolitan Police over its failure to investigate the alleged Downing Street Christmas party on 18 December 2020.

Lawyers are arguing that the force’s position is unlawful, and believe that a victory in the case would have a knock-on effect for other government gatherings.

Jolyon Maugham, 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.

“It shames the Met, and ultimately all of us, that Cressida Dick refuses to investigate.”

National policy for police forces in England and Wales was drawn up at the start of the pandemic to focus on breaches that pose the highest public health risk.

Fines were given out by police officers who were present at events where the laws were broken and witnessed this happening at the time.

Following the scandal over Dominic Cummings’s trips to Durham and Barnard Castle during the first lockdown, when he was the prime minister’s chief adviser, the policy was clarified.

At the time, Durham Constabulary concluded that Mr Cummings may have committed “a minor breach of the regulations” and said there was “no intention to take retrospective action since this would amount to treating Mr Cummings differently from other members of the public”.

Commanders in charge of the policing response to Covid issued a direction to all forces, saying that retrospective investigations could be carried out for egregious breaches, if they were merited, proportionate and in the public interest.

Police sources said the underlying principle was that the primary aim of the unprecedented laws, brought in under the Public Health Act, were to reduce Covid transmission “in the here and now”.

The law states that coronavirus offences must be prosecuted “before the end of the period of six months, beginning with the date on which evidence which the prosecutor thinks is sufficient to justify the proceedings comes to the prosecutor’s knowledge”.

The clause means that the Metropolitan Police could only pursue people over alleged Downing Street parties if it did not receive sufficient evidence of law-breaking at the time.

The prime minister apologised for attending the “bring your own booze” gathering on Wednesday and acknowledged the public’s “rage” over the revelations.

He told MPs he was at the 20 May 2020 gathering for around 25 minutes to thank staff, and “believed implicitly that this was a work event”.

Mr Johnson added: “With hindsight I should have sent everyone back inside, I should have found some other way to thank them.”

He said senior official Ms Gray should be allowed to complete her inquiry into a series of alleged government parties “so that the full facts can be established”.



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