Downing Street Reportedly Asks Police to Keep 'Partygate' Photos Under Wraps

© REUTERS / POOL / British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the ACF building at the Technopole in EdinburghBritish Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the ACF building at the Technopole in Edinburgh
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits the ACF building at the Technopole in Edinburgh - Sputnik International, 1920, 16.02.2022
The Tory government's popularity been hit by months of drip-fed leaks of photos and claims from anonymous sources of staff merry-making at Number 10. But the launch of a Metropolitan Police criminal investigation precipitated the effective sacking of its commissioner by the opposition mayor of London.
Downing Street has reportedly asked the Metropolitan Police to keep some 300 photos collected during a probe into alleged staff parties during lockdown.
ITV News claimed it had seen a leaked Cabinet Office document saying the force had pledged to keep the names of any individual handed a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) fine as punishment confidential.
"The Met has said it has been handed more than 300 photographs as part of its investigation. Consistent with its indication that it will not publish the identities of anyone issued a FPN, we would not expect the Met to publish photographs," the memo allegedly reads. "The Liaison Unit has asked the Met to confirm this."
Pro-Labour Daily Mirror political editor Pippa Crerar claimed two weeks ago the police had an image of Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson holding a can of beer at an alleged party to celebrate his 56th birthday in June 2020 at 10 Downing Street his official residence and office.
But the newspaper has yet to publish the photo of the PM holding the drink — later reported to be in fact a bottle of Spanish Estrella Damm lager.
The alleged breaches of the now-defunct lockdown rules would at worst be punished with an FPN, an on-the-spot fine of up to £1,000 — the legal equivalent of a parking ticket or similar fine for a petty infraction.
"The Met have confirmed that if officers believe it is appropriate, because the Covid regulations have been breached without reasonable excuse, an FPN would normally be issued," the leaked document says.
But the investigation is unprecedented, as police would not normally probe such a minor offence retrospectively, only issuing fines to those they caught in the act. The force commonly refuses to investigate household burglaries and other crimes carrying a potential prison sentence due to lack of manpower.
Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick came under pressure from opposition figures to launch the investigation, only to face criticism from the same quarters when it meant senior civil servant Sue Gray could not release the full details of her own official probe into 'Partygate'.
Dick was forced to resign last week after Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said he no longer had confidence in her — although his stated reasons were to do with incidents of racism and other prejudice in the Met's ranks. Dick, who Khan appointed in 2017, was just weeks away from the end of her term of office.
That prompted the Metropolitan Police Federation, which represents 31,000 officers, to announce it had lost confidence in the mayor.
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Rumours of the supposed party had already hit the headlines in January, when ITV News reported claims that Johnson's wife Carrie had "ambushed" him with a birthday cake on his return from a visit to a school in Hertfordshire. Sources alleged the PM shared the cake with up to 30 staff in the Cabinet Room — potentially a breach of rules against social gatherings in force at the time.
The Mirror's next "bombshell" revelation was a grainy photo of Johnson presiding — via video-conferencing — over the Number 10 2020 Christmas staff quiz, standing in a room with two other people, one with a string of tinsel draped round his neck, and an open bottle of £8 prosecco on a desk.
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