Scotland Yard threatened this evening to take anyone breaching Covid rules at Downing Street to court if they contest their fines.
Head of the ‘celebrity squad’, Commander Catherine Roper, announced officers had received the full folder of material gathered during the Cabinet Office probe – and said officers would be writing to those who attended events asking them to explain themselves.
Anyone without a ‘reasonable excuse’ for flouting the rules faces the prospect of ‘enforcement action’, she warned.
Commander Roper said: ‘If the decision is to take enforcement action then a report will be sent to the ACRO Criminal Records Office which will issue the fixed penalty notice.
Scotland Yard threatened this evening to take anyone breaching Covid rules at Downing Street to court if they contest their fines. Pictured: Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick
‘Recipients can pay the fixed penalty and the matter will be considered closed.’
But she added: ‘Should a recipient dispute the fixed penalty notice then the case will be referred back to the Met, where officers will consider whether to pursue the matter in a magistrates’ court.’
The letters to partygoers could save Boris Johnson from the embarrassing prospect of being interviewed under caution. In an extraordinary late statement, the force hit back at criticism over its intervention in the publication of the Sue Gray report.
Earlier, the Met suggested the report be redacted to make ‘minimal reference’ to No10 events to ‘avoid any prejudice to our investigation’. But the reference to ‘prejudice’ – implying it could go before a jury – was scorned by lawyers, and later dropped.
Commander Roper said: ‘We intend to complete our investigations promptly, fairly and proportionately.
‘We have not delayed this report and the timing of its release is a matter for the Cabinet Office inquiry team.’
When news first broke that Boris Johnson and his staff apparently held boozy parties at Downing Street while millions endured strict lockdown rules, Scotland Yard quickly dismissed calls to mount an investigation
This week was meant to finally draw a line under the scandal that has dogged the PM for months. Here, the Mail exposes the recent shambolic process of the inquiry:
Dame Cressida’s bombshell
Commissioner Cressida Dick announced to stunned London Assembly members on Tuesday that officers were mounting a full-scale criminal inquiry, effectively lobbying a hand grenade into the process. It was a complete reversal of what the Met had said up until then.
When news first broke that Boris Johnson and his staff apparently held boozy parties at Downing Street while millions endured strict lockdown rules, Scotland Yard quickly dismissed calls to mount an investigation.
The force insisted detectives would wait for the conclusion of Miss Gray’s inquiry and only act if there was evidence of criminality.
In an extraordinary late statement, the force hit back at criticism over its intervention in the publication of the Sue Gray (pictured) report
Justifying the spectacular volte face, Britain’s most senior police officer revealed her officers had already carried out an assessment on a dossier of evidence handed over by Miss Gray on Sunday.
Dame Cressida announced the threshold for a criminal investigation had been met. She said: ‘The guidelines suggested we should potentially investigate further.’
How chaos unfolded
The last-minute intervention by Scotland Yard threw Miss Gray’s inquiry into disarray. It appeared at first that her report would still be published after Scotland Yard briefed on Tuesday that it was not seeking to cover up her findings.
But then yesterday, to widespread scorn, the force announced it had instructed the Cabinet Office team to limit publication of any potentially criminal events and behaviour, casting uncertainty on when the report will surface and how extensive it will be.
Rivals’ wild claims of report ‘stitch-up’
Opposition leaders yesterday lined up to make a string of incendiary claims about a so-called ‘stitch-up’ between No 10 and the Metropolitan Police over Partygate.
They tried to stoke claims Commissioner Cressida Dick had intervened to suppress the full publication of the Sue Gray report to let Boris Johnson off the hook.
Sir Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, tweeted: ‘A stitch-up between the Met leadership and No 10 will damage our politics for generations and it looks like it is happening right in front of our eyes.’
This prompted Tory MP Michael Fabricant to reply: ‘The Lib Dems called for a police investigation and now they’re accusing the police of corruption.’
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said the situation was getting ‘murkier by the minute’, and the rapid conclusion and full publication of inquiries was ‘now essential for public trust’.
Sir Keir Starmer said that ‘any issues of prejudice have got to be worked through’. The Labour leader added the ‘whole of government’ had become ‘paralysed because the police are looking at what the Prime Minister was getting up to in Downing Street’.
Fiasco over ‘prejudice’
Scotland Yard at first argued that redactions – with only ‘minimal reference’ to No10 events – were necessary to ‘avoid any prejudice to our investigation’.
But the reference to ‘prejudice’, implying the matter could go before a jury, astonished lawyers who pointed out this is a non-indictable offence punishable only by a fixed penalty notice.
The Yard later dropped the reference to prejudice, with the aim instead being to avoid forewarning suspects. Nazir Afzal, a former chief crown prosecutor for the North West, said: ‘This is absolute nonsense from the Met. A purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot possibly prejudice a police investigation.’
The legal quagmire
Any statements provided to the Cabinet Office probe and interviews undertaken of those who attended or organised events cannot be used as definitive proof in a criminal investigation.
Former Met chief superintendent Dal Babu pointed out that the civil inquiry is ‘no different’ to a human resources report and has no legal standing.
Another ex-chief superintendent Dai Davies suggested staff who have been interviewed could retract their testimony.
He added: ‘Now it’s a legal quagmire. Anyone who has spoken to her inquiry could retract their evidence, arguing they did not know it could be used against them in a criminal inquiry.’
Dilemma facing Gray
Sue Gray could publish a watered down version of her inquiry that complies with the Met’s demands, but is shorn of key conclusions promised at the outset.
It could open up the respected civil servant to allegations of participating in a whitewash if she cannot go into all the details that she has unearthed.
Alternatively, the Whitehall inquisitor could hold off on publishing anything until after the Met returns its verdict on the saga.
But this could see the wait turn from days to months – with potentially disastrous consequences for trust in both the Prime Minster and policing.
What happens now?
The seismic Cabinet Office report also has the potential to topple the Prime Minister, with some Tory MPs holding off calling for a vote of no confidence in him until after its release.
The delay risks leaving Boris Johnson’s Government in paralysis for months.
He will be unable to make the changes he wants to his top team, and leaves many people inside the building worrying about the police investigation and their own futures.
The fiasco could not come at a worse time as it threatens to impact more widely on Britain’s international standing, as Russia inches ever closer to invading Ukraine.
May warns: Nobody is above the law
Theresa May stepped up her campaign against the Prime Minister as she demanded ‘full accountability’ over the Partygate allegations.
Mrs May said she was angry at the revelations and remarked that ‘nobody is above the law’.
The comments – first reported in the Maidenhead Advertiser, her constituency newspaper – are the former prime minister’s first intervention in the party row – although she has repeatedly taken aim at Boris Johnson since stepping down.
The letter, which was sent before details about Mr Johnson’s birthday party in 2020 were revealed, urged ‘if there is evidence of deliberate or premeditated wrongdoing, I expect full accountability to follow’.