Downing Street staff have been asked by police to provide a “lawful exception” or “reasonable excuse” for parties which took place during lockdown, a partygate questionnaire leaked to ITV News has shown.
The questionnaires – sent to those suspected of breaking Covid regulations by attending gatherings at the height of the pandemic – form part of the evidence the Metropolitan Police is gathering as part of its investigation into potential law-breaking on Downing Street. The prime minister has already returned his copy and the document gives the first insight into the kind of questions he is likely to have been asked.
Police make clear to recipients that people are filling out the questionnaire under caution and Boris Johnson is understood to be the first prime minister subject to that level of police questioning.
The document states at the outset that those accused have an opportunity to provide “a written statement under caution”.
It then goes on to ask around a dozen questions, including:
- “Did you participate in a gathering on a specific date”
- “What was the purpose of your participation in that gathering”
- “Did you interact with, or undertake any activity with, other persons present at the gathering. If yes, please provide details”
The questionnaire asks for timings of the person’s attendance at the party and how many others were present.
Importantly, it also provides them with a chance to justify their actions, asking: “What, if any, lawful exception applied to the gathering and/or what reasonable excuse did you have for participating in the gathering?”
The Metropolitan Police says there are three ways to respond to the questionnaire:
- Remain silent and answer no questions
- Provide an answer to the written questions in the attached document
- Provide a prepared statement in your own words
The questionnaires were tailored to each individual being investigated, meaning they are likely to have been different for each person but this document gives a flavour of the questions Mr Johnson may have been asked.
A No 10 spokesperson said: “We have confirmed the prime minister has been contacted by the Metropolitan Police. We will not be commenting further while the investigation is ongoing.”
The leaked questionnaire.
Criminal law barrister Andrew Keogh told ITV News the questionnaire “suggests that this is not a thorough investigation”.
He said the questions posed are “as basic as you can possibly imagine them to be”.
“It just suggests that there’s no effort going into any real investigation of ascertaining who did what when and where and why.”
“This is anything but a rigorous investigation, it’s the direct opposite,” he said, “there’s just no effort gone into this at all”.
The prime minister is known to have taken legal advice before submitting his response last week, and is expected to argue that he did not violate the rules by attending several gatherings because Number 10 is both his place of work and his home.
More junior members of staff have told ITV News that they are concerned they won’t be able to afford the same standard of legal advice, potentially meaning that they are more likely to be fined than the prime minister.
Anyone who receives a questionnaire has seven days to respond, with the latest batch sent out yesterday, meaning the police investigation still has at least a week left to run.
Some of the questions visible in the leaked document. Credit: ITV News
Former Met Police Chief Superintendent Dal Babu told ITV News the questions were “pretty bland” and that a “lawyer would perhaps give you a ‘get out of jail card’ in response to all of those questions”.
“That’s why it doesn’t seem to be a particularly effective way of investigating the parties that have happened at Downing Street.”
“What you would expect is somebody to sit down with the individual, go through the questions,” he added.
Last week ITV News revealed that those under police investigation would be allowed to view the responses they gave in interviews with civil servant Sue Gray before they respond to the police questionnaire.
Ms Gray – who conducted the original internal investigation before passing police evidence which pushed them into announcing their own criminal probe – said people would only be able to view their own answers and no one else’s.
Among the package of evidence passed to police by Ms Gray was 300 photographs relevant to the partygate investigation – one of which allegedly shows the PM holding a beer.
But those photographs may never be made public after ITV News revealed the Cabinet Office had asked police to confirm that they would not be published.
The request emerged after ITV News was leaked a document sent by the Cabinet Office to the more than 50 staff being investigated, providing an update on the inquiry into 12 allegedly rule-breaking gatherings.
The document said: “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 (fixed penalty notice), we would not expect the Met to publish photographs. The Liaison Unit has asked the Met to confirm this.”
The Met has confirmed that in line with policy it would not reveal the people who are issued with FPNs, however Number 10 has said it would be made public if the prime minister is fined.
Fines start at £100 for the first offence, growing to £200 for the second offence before doubling for each repeat offence before hitting the cap of £6,400.
Any individual is entitled to appeal their fine, which could see the appellant appear in court.
The prime minister has said he will have “a lot more to say” on the allegations against him after police conclude their investigation.