Scotland Yard has placed the heart of the government under investigation after receiving evidence of Sue Gray’s investigation into alleged parties in Downing Street and Whitehall, which will delay the publication of its report.
As a result, Boris Johnson will have to wait until Gray’s inquest is published, with Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick performing a U-turn and signing off on a formal inquest.
The Cabinet Office and the Met have concluded that the allegations uncovered by the investigation are serious enough to warrant an investigation beyond Gray’s remit. The move is a significant shift from the Met, which had previously said its policy was not to undertake retrospective inquiries into lockdown breaches.
On Tuesday, Dick told the London Assembly that his force had launched a criminal investigation into eight events where lockdown rules were allegedly broken, following information provided by the Cabinet Office.
She said: “Following, firstly, information provided by the Cabinet Office investigation team and, secondly, the assessment of my own officers, I can confirm that the Met is currently investigating a number of events that took place in Downing Street. and Whitehall over the past two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations. »
Gray provided her with “an outline of the findings of her investigation”, according to the Met, but the Cabinet Office said she would continue to gather evidence.
The Met has asked the Cabinet Office investigation team to officially send it the evidence they hold relating to the events the police are currently investigating, the Guardian understands. Until now, the Cabinet Office team had briefed officers as they obtained evidence.
The decision to investigate means the force believes there appears to be potential evidence of wrongdoing, that those involved knew or should have known it was wrong and may have no excuse reasonable for their actions.
Police will not give a timeframe for their investigation, but they are expected to contact those under investigation. A Cabinet Office source said they were hoping for an update within weeks, but an investigation could take longer.
Officers will need to uncheck the regulations in place at the time the parties and gatherings took place, as the rules changed regularly.
A Scotland Yard spokesperson said: “The MPS [Metropolitan police service] has been in ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office as part of its investigation into allegations of gatherings. Throughout this process, specialist MPS detectives, supported by senior officers, continuously reviewed whether the criminal investigation into any of these events was proportionate based on the information available. In recent days, the Cabinet Office provided the findings of its investigation to the MPS.
Dick told the London Assembly’s Police and Crime Committee: ‘I fully understand that the public is deeply concerned about the allegations that have been circulating in the media over the past few weeks.
Dick said police would not normally investigate retrospective violations, but stressed that this was not a blanket ban. She said there were three factors that might merit retrospective investigation.
First, there is evidence that those involved knew – or should have known – that what they were doing was against the law. Other factors, the Met commissioner said, included ‘where not to investigate would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law’ and ‘where there was little ambiguity surrounding the absence of any reasonable defence’. .
She said the police and the Cabinet Office investigation led by Gray were in liaison.
Dick then announced his U-turn, after weeks of his force being criticized for failing to investigate numerous allegations.
Neil Coyle, the Labor MP who referred the parties to the Metropolitan Police, said Dick had ‘serious questions to answer about why the inquiry could only be launched now’.
Coyle said: “It took a civil servant whose boss is the Prime Minister to insist that the Metropolitan Police investigate these alleged breaches – including collecting evidence from their own officers.”
A Cabinet Office spokesman said work would continue on the investigation. “Sue Gray’s investigation continues,” he said. “He is in constant contact with the Metropolitan Police Service.”
The terms of reference for the investigation state: “As with all internal investigations, if during the course of the work evidence of conduct which potentially constitutes a criminal offense comes to light, the matter will be referred to the police and the work of the Cabinet Office may be interrupted.
“Matters relating to compliance with the law are a matter for the police to investigate and the Cabinet Office will liaise with them as appropriate.”
Angela Rayner, Labor deputy leader, called on the Prime Minister to resign. She said: ‘With Boris Johnson’s Downing Street now under police investigation, how on earth does he think he can stay on as Prime Minister? Boris Johnson is a national distraction. Tory MPs should stop supporting him and he should finally do the decent thing and resign.
The Met’s investigation will be led by its Special Investigations Team and overseen by Assistant Deputy Commissioner Jane Connors, who leads Covid enforcement.