A NUMBER of parties in and around Downing Street during the pandemic “should not have been allowed to take place”, the initial report into the scandal has concluded.
In a limited update, Sue Gray said some of the behaviour was “difficult to justify” and betrayed “failures of leadership and judgment” in Number 10 and the Cabinet Office.
She said: “At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.”
There was “significant learning” to be drawn from the events, which should addressed “immediately” across Government, without waiting for a police probe to end.
Ms Gray also criticised the “excessive consumption of alcohol” involved, saying it was “not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time”.
Staff were also free to use the Downing Street garden “without authorisation or oversight”, which was also inappropriate.
In addition, she said some civil servants wanted to “raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so”.
However she stopped short of saying whether any of the many parties held along Whitehall since the outbreak began contravened relevant guidance and regulations at the time.
Indeed, she said the Metropolitan Police’s belated investigation into the gatherings meant she was unable to provide a “meaningful report” setting out and analysing the “extensive factual information” she had gathered from 70 interviews and other sources.
Under “general findings”, Ms Gray wrote: “Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify.
“At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.
“At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public.
“There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.
“The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.
“The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street.
“During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space.
“This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.
“Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain.”
She concluded: “The gatherings within the scope of this investigation are spread over a 20-month period – a period that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public.
“The whole of the country rose to the challenge. Ministers, special advisers and the Civil Service, of which I am proud to be a part, were a key and dedicated part of that national effort. However, as I have noted, a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did.
“There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.”
Ms Gray said 16 events on twelve dates between May 2020 and Aperil 2021 fell within her terms of reference, including gatherings in Mr Johnson’s flat over Number 10, the Number 10 garden, the cabinet room, other Number 10 rooms, the Cabinet Office on Whitehall and the Department for Education.
She said that of these, only four did not meet the threshold for criminal investigation.
That means that 12 gatherings over eight dates, including some in the PM’s flat, garden and his birthday party do merit criminal investigation, according to the Metropolitan Police.
Mr Johnson has also said in parliament that some of the gatherings being investigated never took place, leading to questions about whether he mislead the Commons.
Ms Gray said the investigation had involved interviews with over 70 individuals, “some more than once”, documentary and digital information, such as emails, Whatsapp messages, text messages, photographs and building entry and exit logs, plus searching official records.
The report said: “No conclusions should be drawn, or inferences made from this other than it is now for the police to consider the relevant material in relation to those incidents.
“The police have also said this does not in itself mean that they will decide to take further
action or that there has necessarily been a breach of the regulations.
“At the request of the police I have provided the material compiled in the course of my investigation relevant to the gatherings that they are now investigating.
“I have also been asked to retain all the other information collected in the course of this work, which I have confirmed that I will do. I will therefore ensure the secure storage and safekeeping of all the information gathered until such time as it may be required further.
“I will not be circulating the information internally within government, it has been provided in confidence to the Cabinet Office investigation team and it is important that this confidence is maintained to protect the integrity of the process.
“As a result of the Metropolitan Police’s investigations, and so as not to prejudice the police investigative process, they have told me that it would only be appropriate to make minimal reference to the gatherings on the dates they are investigating.
“Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather.”
She said she decided not to publish factual accounts relating to events not under investigation by police because it would damage her overall findings.
She wrote: “In respect of the gatherings that the Metropolitan Police has assessed as not reaching the threshold for criminal investigation, they have not requested any limitations be placed on the description of those events, however, I have decided not to publish factual accounts in relation to those four dates.
“I do not feel that I am able to do so without detriment to the overall balance of the findings.”