Met Opens Investigations Into Two Partygate Gatherings

Met Opens Investigations Into Two Partygate Gatherings
The headquarters of the Conservative Party is pictured in London on March 16, 2017. (Daniel Leal /AFP via Getty Images)
Alexander Zhang

The Metropolitan Police has opened investigations into potential COVID-19 breaches at two gatherings during the pandemic involving Conservative Party personnel.

The force said on Tuesday that new evidence has prompted officers to reopen its probe into a Christmas party held at the Conservative Campaign Headquarters in London on Dec. 14, 2020.

The Met said it has also launched a new investigation into an event on December 8 of the same year, when Privileges Committee member Sir Bernard Jenkin is reported to have attended a “birthday drinks” event for his wife in Parliament.

But the Met—along with Thames Valley Police—will not be investigating potential further breaches involving former Prime Minister Boris Johnson and others at Downing Street and at Chequers between June 2020 and May 2021.

‘Unacceptable and Indefensible’

The Met has previously investigated the Christmas event after the Daily Mirror published a picture of the gathering, but concluded that the photo by itself was not sufficient evidence to find an offence had been committed.
But video footage emerged last month appearing to show Conservative Party staff dancing and mocking COVID-19 rules at the party.

In the video, obtained by the Mirror, staff members are seen enjoying festivities wearing paper crowns and clutching alcoholic drinks, while a man and woman hold hands and dance.

One attendee can be heard saying, “As long as we don’t stream that we’re, like, bending the rules.”

The Met said on Tuesday, “The receipt of video evidence has resulted in the Met revisiting and updating the assessment.”

Among the attendees at the gathering were Shaun Bailey, who received a peerage in Mr. Johnson’s resignation honours list last week, and members of his team in his failed campaign to become London mayor.

Tory aide Ben Mallett—awarded an OBE on the list—also attended the party and was visible in the video.

At the time, indoor socialising was banned in London under Tier 2 restrictions. People were only allowed to socialise indoors with members of their household or a support bubble.

People who did want to socialise had to do so in a garden or at a pub with outdoor seating, and such gatherings were limited to groups of six people.

After the video was published, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove apologised for the incident, calling it “unacceptable and indefensible.”

‘Monstrous Hypocrisy’

The Guido Fawkes website reported last month that Sir Bernard Jenkin went to a drinks party held by Commons Deputy Speaker Dame Eleanor Laing on Dec. 8, 2020, while London was in Tier 2 measures restricting indoor mixing.

Mr. Jenkin is one of the four Conservative members of the Privileges Committee, which ruled that Mr. Johnson had committed “repeated contempts” of Parliament, forcing the former prime minister to resign as an MP.

In a statement following the allegations, Mr. Johnson said: “Bernard Jenkin has just voted to expel me from Parliament for allegedly trying to conceal from Parliament my knowledge of illicit events. Now it turns out he may have for the whole time known that he himself attended an event—and concealed this from the Privileges Committee and the whole House for the last year.”

Mr. Johnson urged Mr. Jenkin to “explain his actions to his own committee, for his colleagues to investigate, and then to resign.”

In a letter to committee chair Harriet Harman, Mr. Johnson wrote that if the report was true, Mr. Jenkin would be “guilty of flagrant and monstrous hypocrisy.”

A spokeswoman for the Speaker’s Office said: “As this is a live investigation any further inquiries should be directed to the Met Police.”

Mr. Jenkin said: “It is not appropriate to comment on a continuing investigation.”

Assessment Criteria

The Met said in a statement: “The Met and Thames Valley Police have assessed new material in relation to potential breaches of Covid Regulations in 2020 and 2021. The Met will be opening one investigation and re-opening a previous investigation.

“The approach to the assessment of these events has been consistent, enforcing the law carefully, thoroughly, proportionately, impartially and without fear or favour.

“The Met has previously published criteria for assessing when to launch investigations into breaches of the Regulations reported retrospectively.”

The force added it would only do so when there was evidence of a “serious and flagrant” breach of the rules and said it would provide further updates at an “appropriate time.”

Addressing the material it had been referred to over Mr. Johnson’s time in Chequers and Downing Street, the Met said it had assessed the events alongside Thames Valley and found they did “not meet the retrospective criteria” for opening an investigation.

PA Media contributed to this report.