The Metropolitan police decided initially to not investigate allegations of lockdown-breaching parties in and around Downing Street in part because no one had admitted taking part and there was no social media footage, a legal document has shown.
And: “Downing Street… have already stated that Covid rules were followed”
In a response by legal campaign group the Good Law Project for a judicial review about the Met’s decision in early December to not launch an inquiry, the police force’s lawyers pointed to guidelines saying it did not investigate Covid breaches retrospectively, given their relatively minor nature and limited resources.
At the time the first decision was made, any details about the gatherings were “fairly vague”, the document said, detailing the reasons given by a senior officer, whose named has been redacted.
The officer, it said:
…. observed that the press reports did not identify who had been at the gatherings, no one had come forward to admit presence at any of the gatherings, and there was no evidence from social media showing these gatherings taking place, and from which those present could be identified.
It followed that if these events had taken place, the organisers could not be identified from the material available to the police at that time and nor could [the officer] draw any conclusions as to whether the gatherings breached the Covid regulations, and if so, whether those present at the gatherings had no reasonable excuse for their presence at the gatherings.
The force changed its mind last month, and is investigating the claims. But Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said the reasons were “profoundly troubling”.
It points to a Met that does not want to investigate potential criminality in government or is excessively deferential to those in power.
Revealed: why the Met chose not to investigate Partygate – Good Law Project
We are today publishing our Grounds for seeking a judicial review of the Metropolitan Police’s initial refusal to investigate the Downing Street lockdown parties, and the Met’s response. The Met had previously insisted that some of the contents of these documents be kept confidential, but we are now publishing them.
We can reveal that the Met had an unpublished policy of not “normally” investigating retrospective lockdown breaches. However, where “not investigating… would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law” that would point towards investigating.
The Met’s decision not to investigate is difficult to understand. It is hard to avoid concluding that the Met decided it didn’t want to investigate, and then scrambled to reverse engineer a justification for this.
Their justification is itself remarkable. It includes reference to the fact that:
- “Downing Street… have already stated that Covid rules were followed”
- “anyone who was at the gathering would be entitled to refuse to answer questions because of the privilege against self-incrimination”
- because the Cabinet Office was looking into possible breaches there was no need for the Met to investigate as well.
These are extraordinary points. They create a different set of laws for those in high office.
The Met would not accept your assurance that you hadn’t committed a crime. It would not refuse to ask you questions because of the privilege against self-incrimination. And it would certainly not decline to investigate you because you had appointed a subordinate to look into the matter instead. Yet these are all allowances gifted to the Government.
Moreover, as the policy itself highlights, some reported breaches of the law potentially undermine the legitimacy of the law itself. It is difficult to imagine a clearer example of this than government officials, potentially including the Prime Minister, breaching the rules.
All of this is profoundly troubling. It points to a Met that does not want to investigate potential criminality in Government, or to a police force that is excessively deferential to those in power. It is a policy which dramatically undermines the rule of law.
Good Law Project is considering whether or not to continue with the judicial review. We wanted the Met to reconsider its decision not to investigate and, after we issued judicial review proceedings, the Met did just that. We believe it is in the public interest to have real transparency over the Met’s decision making, and the publication of those pleadings with this blog serves that end.
We will make a final decision shortly.