Force cites policy of not investigating past alleged breaches of Covid rules and lack of evidence
The Metropolitan police has said it will not investigate the Downing Street Christmas party widely reported to have been held last year.
In a much awaited statement, the force said it had a policy of not retrospectively investigating alleged breaches of coronavirus laws.
But policing and prosecution sources told the Guardian there was no reason in law for police not to investigate, and essentially the Met’s decision was a choice. A former Met police chief said the force was acting as judge and jury.
Labour MPs had written to the Met asking for an investigation days ago, as pressure exploded after an ITV News video surfaced of No 10 aides joking about the party held at a time when many believed the rule forbade it.
The Met said: “The Metropolitan Police Service has received a significant amount of correspondence relating to allegations reported in the media that the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations were breached at gatherings at No 10 Downing Street in November and December 2020.
“All this correspondence has been considered by detectives in detail, as well as footage published by ITV News.
“The correspondence and footage does not provide evidence of a breach of the Health Protection Regulations, but restates allegations made in the media. Based on the absence of evidence and in line with our policy not to investigate retrospective breaches of such regulations, the Met will not commence an investigation at this time.”
The statement leaves open the prospect that the Met’s stance could change if an inquiry announced by Boris Johnson unearths any evidence of wrongdoing. It is to be conducted by Simon Case, the cabinet secretary.
The Met said: “The Met has had discussions with the Cabinet Office in relation to the investigation by the cabinet secretary. If any evidence is found as a result of that investigation, it will be passed to the Met for further consideration.”
The former Met police chief Brian Paddick, now a Liberal Democrat peer, said: “It is the police’s duty to investigate if there is reason to believe a crime has been committed. It’s a matter for the Crown Prosecution Service to decide whether it’s in the public interest to prosecute, not the police.”
A policing source who has worked extensively on Covid and its enforcement told the Guardian there was no ban on retrospective investigations into alleged breaches.
The Crown Prosecution Service, which authorises proceedings in England and Wales, also believes there is no ban on prosecuting people for Covid breaches retrospectively, an informed source said.
The policing source said: “Across the country there are currently investigations into alleged breaches dating back a similar amount of time [to the Downing Street party], where the alleged breach is enough to justify a retrospective investigation.
“Each investigation must pass a public interest test – that is, is it in the public interest to put resources, time and effort into an investigation. It is up to the discretion of the force, and ultimately subjective.”
The source added that a factor can be whether not investigating undermines the wider effort to enforce rules to fight the virus.