The Metropolitan Police acted with “integrity” throughout its partygate investigation and officers made choices “based on the facts and were proper”, the pressure’s appearing commissioner has stated.
Sir Stephen House, giving proof to the London Assembly’s police and crime committee, defended the almost four-month investigation into lockdown-breaking events in Downing Street and Whitehall.
The investigation has come underneath criticism for solely fining Boris Johnson as soon as, particularly after the Sue Gray inquiry, printed on Wednesday, revealed many situations of partying in Downing Street whereas COVID restrictions have been in place.
Challenged over why the prime minister didn’t obtain a wonderful for attending a leaving occasion for his former communications director Lee Cain on 13 November 2020, throughout England’s second nationwide lockdown, Sir Stephen stated he was “confident of the integrity of the decisions” taken.
Photos of the gathering, with the PM toasting colleagues, emerged two days earlier than Ms Gray’s full inquiry was printed.
Read extra: Details of how the Met Police investigated partygate
Sir Stephen stated officers had “looked at hundreds of documents, including emails, electronic door logs – in other words, people in and out at various times – diary entries, witness statements, photographs, CCTV images, and we sent questionnaires to people who we felt may have breached legislation”.
“The explanations that were given in the questionnaire were all considered carefully,” he stated.
“Some gatherings we decided were not work-related, and some we decided were work-related.”
The appearing commissioner, who’s in submit till a substitute is discovered for ex-boss Dame Cressida Dick, stated fines have been solely issued in circumstances the place officers have been assured a conviction could possibly be secured if challenged in courtroom – one thing the Met defined when it concluded the inquiry final week.
He stated they thought-about a number of points:
• The nature of the gathering
• Different phases of the gathering
• Amount of time spent there by a participant.
Sir Stephen added that detectives “critically, cross-referenced the evidence to identify whether the individual, on a full consideration of all the facts that we had, including their own account, did or did not have a reasonable excuse for his or her participation in the gathering”.
“If the case were taken to court, in other words, if we issued a fixed penalty notice and it was refused and somebody said no, I want to go to court, then we had the evidence that we thought would give us a realistic prospect of a conviction,” he added.
“I believe that the decisions that my officers made were based on the facts and were proper.”
Sir Stephen has additionally written to London Mayor Sadiq Khan after he was requested to offer “a more detailed and formal explanation” of how choices have been made.
The senior officer stated in his letter that he understands the “strong interest, feelings and opinions in this case” and that the general public would love extra readability.
“I would like to reassure you and the public that the Met has done its job to enforce the law carefully, thoroughly, proportionately, impartially, without fear or favour,” he stated.
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Sir Stephen added that the Met had a “general rule” of not investigating alleged lockdown breaches retrospectively however did so in Downing Street and Whitehall’s case as a result of they felt:
• It was proportionate to take action as there was proof these concerned knew or should have recognized they have been finishing up an offence
• By not investigating they’d considerably undermine the legitimacy of the regulation
• And there was little ambiguity across the absence of any cheap defence.
In the letter to Mr Khan, Sir Stephen stated it will not be “consistent with our policy and practice throughout the pandemic, or fair to the individuals concerned – at different levels of seniority” to enter particulars for every case as this could danger figuring out them.
He added that he’s conscious the police watchdog has been requested to look into the Met’s investigation (by the Lib Dems) and they’re going to “of course cooperate fully with any scrutiny they bring to this”.