London police investigate Downing Street lockdown parties

Jan 25, 2022, 3:21 AM | Updated: 5:24 pm

LONDON (AP) — The “partygate” scandal that threatens to derail U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s administration deepened Tuesday as police opened an investigation into gatherings at government offices that allegedly violated COVID-19 lockdown rules.

London’s Metropolitan Police Service has launched an inquiry into “a number of events” at Johnson’s Downing Street office and other government buildings because they met the force’s criteria for investigating the “most serious and flagrant” breaches of coronavirus rules, Commissioner Cressida Dick told a committee of the London Assembly, the capital’s local government council.

Johnson is facing calls to resign amid revelations that he or his staff attended a series of social events during periods of lockdown when most social gatherings were banned in England, forcing average citizens to miss weddings, funerals and birthdays as friends and relatives died alone in hospitals. The gatherings are already being investigated by a senior civil servant whose report has been anxiously awaited by lawmakers and the public.

“As a result, firstly, of the information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and, secondly, my officers’ own assessment, I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of COVID-19 regulations,” Dick told the committee.

Police have already assessed several other events and determined that they do not meet the threshold for further investigation, the commissioner said. She declined to provide specifics about the gatherings.

The announcement throws into doubt the timetable for when Sue Gray, the civil servant leading the Cabinet Office inquiry, will release her report. Gray had been expected to finish this week, but rules governing the investigation allow the inquiry to be paused if she turns over evidence of potential criminal offenses to the police.

The prime minister’s spokesman, Max Blain, said the investigations team and the police were talking.

“That still needs to be worked through, both in relation to what may or may not be published and the ongoing work of both the police and the (Gray) investigation,” he said.

Even before the police investigation was announced, Johnson was fighting off new allegations of rule breaking aimed directly at him.

ITV News reported late Monday that Johnson’s then-fiancee threw a birthday party for him — complete with cake — inside his Downing Street offices on June 19, 2020, followed by another gathering for family and friends in his official residence.

The prime minister’s office confirmed that the events took place, but denied that they violated lockdown regulations. The first was a brief gathering with colleagues who Johnson was already in close contact with and the second involved a small number of family members who met outside in a garden, in line with coronavirus rules.

Such careful parsing of the rules fueled a debate in the House of Commons, where opposition lawmakers once again called on the prime minister to resign.

Martin Docherty-Hughes of the Scottish National Party argued that the latest gatherings were indeed parties by quoting the late celebrity chef Julia Child, who once said “a party without cake is just a meeting.”

“Johnson’s staffers supplied a cake,” he said. “Ergo, it was a party.”

But Paymaster General Michael Ellis, who represented the government, said cake did not a party make.

“If while at work someone eats cake for 10 minutes, I do not think that conclusions can be drawn from that,” Ellis responded.

The fact that politicians are relying on such technicalities to justify for their actions is “farcical,” said Catherine Haddon, an expert on the constitution at the Institute for Government in London.

“It’s not just about sort of the technicalities of the law, whether there is a sufficient defense or not. It’s about public perception because people were losing their loved ones at this time, you know, unable to to say goodbye to them in person..,” she told The Associated Press.

The police investigation is just the latest episode in the “partygate” scandal that has destabilized Johnson’s conservative government for the past six weeks. Johnson initially denied that any rules had been broken, but he was forced to order an investigation after video emerged of a senior staff member making jokes about a wine-and-cheese party in the prime minister’s press office.

Johnson later apologized for attending a party in the garden outside his Downing Street offices in May 2020, saying he initially thought it was a work gathering allowed by the rules but recognized on hindsight that it wasn’t appropriate.

Police have previously faced criticism for suggesting they wouldn’t investigate the Downing Street parties because officers don’t routinely investigate historical breaches of coronavirus regulations, where the only penalty available is a fine. Fines of up to 10,000 pounds ($13,490) were imposed for breaching lockdown rules.

But Dick said Tuesday that police were prepared to conduct retrospective investigations where there were “really flagrant breaches” of the rules. Before such investigations are carried out, she said, three criteria must be met: there is evidence that those involved knew or should have known they were breaking the law, not investigating would “significantly undermine” the law, and there seems to be no reasonable defense for the conduct.

“So in those cases, where those criteria were met, the guidelines suggested that we should potentially investigate further and end up giving people tickets,” she said.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


An American flag waves in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building, Monday, June 27, 2022, in Washi...
Associated Press

Supreme Court backs coach in praying on field after games

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court said Monday that a high school football coach who knelt and prayed on the field after games was protected by the Constitution, a decision that opponents said would open the door to “much more coercive prayer” in public schools. The court ruled 6-3 for the coach with the conservative […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

US officials return to Venezuela amid gas price hike

CLEVELAND, Ohio (AP) — Senior Biden administration officials have quietly traveled to Caracas in the latest bid to rebuild relations with the South American oil giant as the war in Ukraine drags on, driving higher gas prices and forcing the U.S. to recalibrate other foreign policy objectives. The delegation that arrived Monday in Caracas includes […]
17 hours ago
The Colorado River winds its way along the West Rim of the Grand Canyon in the Hualapai Indian Rese...
Associated Press

Grand Canyon starting water limitations after pumphouse outage

Grand Canyon National Park is starting water conservation measures on the North Rim due to an electrical failure involving the Roaring Springs pumphouse.
17 hours ago
In this photo provided by Dax McDonald, debris sits near railroad tracks after an Amtrak passenger ...
Associated Press

A look at recent Amtrak derailments and other crashes

An Amtrak passenger train struck a dump truck Monday at an uncontrolled crossing in a rural area of Missouri killing two people on the train and one in the truck. Others were injured. The crash happened just after noon near Mendon, Missouri. Several cars derailed. The train was traveling from Los Angeles to Chicago. The […]
17 hours ago
FILE - Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., speaks during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources hearing on Ma...
Associated Press

Manchin: Commission on veterans facilities to be dismantled

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — A group of U.S. senators has agreed to effectively dismantle a commission tasked by the Department of Veterans Affairs to carry out closures, downsizing and other significant medical facility changes nationwide, Sen. Joe Manchin said Monday. The West Virginia Democrat, a member of the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee, said there is […]
17 hours ago
Associated Press

Pennsylvania House targets colleges’ fetal research in bill

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — A proposal to require Pennsylvania’s four state-related universities to promise they are not conducting research or experiments with fetal tissue from elective abortions was added to a state budget bill by House Republicans on Monday. The chamber voted 108-92, with three Republicans crossing party lines, for the amendment to legislation that […]
17 hours ago

Sponsored Articles


Most plumbing problems can be fixed with regular maintenance

Instead of waiting for a problem to happen, experts suggest getting a head start on your plumbing maintenance.
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

Update your child’s vaccines before kindergarten

So, your little one starts kindergarten soon. How exciting! You still have a few months before the school year starts, so now’s the time to make sure students-to-be have the vaccines needed to stay safe as they head into a new chapter of life.
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
London police investigate Downing Street lockdown parties