Boris Johnson may have broken law by attending drinks bash, warns former DPP

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  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
  • Ken Macdonald
    British lawyer and politician
 (Jeremy Selwyn)
(Jeremy Selwyn)

A former director of public prosecutions has warned that Boris Johnson may have committed a crime by attending the “bring your own booze” Downing Street party as pressure on the Met to investigate intensified.

Lord Macdonald of River Glaven said the May 2020 party, which Mr Johnson on Wednesday admitted he went to for 25 minutes, “was almost certainly unlawful” and that “those attending it were committing an offence.”

He added that it was “difficult to see” how any police probe could clear the Prime Minister and that Mr Johnson was “at the very least an accessory” to an illegal gathering in the Prime Minister’s own garden”.

Lord Macdonald’s comments came as calls mounted for Met Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick to begin an investigation into the party and the other gatherings that are already subject of a Cabinet Office inquiry by the senior civil servant Sue Gray.

Scotland Yard has so far said that it will await Ms Gray’s findings before deciding what to do, although one of Dame Cressida’s predecessors, Sir Paul Stephenson, on Wednesday said that her force would eventually have “little choice” but to investigate.

Another retired chief constable added that Dame Cressida “must act” on the growing partygate scandal.

The most powerful legal intervention came, however, from Lord Macdonald, who was director of public prosecutions from 2003 to 2008, as he declared that Mr Johnson appeared to be guilty of a criminal offence.

“This party was almost certainly unlawful and those attending it were committing an offence,” he said.

“From 22 April 2020, being outside your home without a reasonable excuse was a crime. Going to work where absolutely necessary amounted to a reasonable excuse, attending a large drinks party obviously did not. It is difficult to see how any police investigation could come to a different conclusion.

“This was an illegal gathering in the Prime Minister’s own garden. The fact that it arguably took place in his own home does not provide Mr Johnson with a defence. He must have agreed to the invitations going out and at the very least this made him an accessory.”

The row over the party exploded after the emergence of a leaked email from Martin Reynolds, one of Boris Johnson’s top officials, invited 100 Downing Street staff to a “bring your own booze” party in the first lockdown.

Witnesses reported seeing the Prime Minister and wife Carrie at the garden gathering on May 20, 2020 and Mr Johnson admitted his attendance in a contrite appearance before MPs at Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons.

He said that he had gone to thank staff for their work and believed that it was a work event within the rules, but that he now recognised that he should not have gone and should have told those present to go back inside.

Detectives have already contacted the Cabinet Office “in light of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of regulations at Downing Street”.

But they postponed any decision on whether to begin an investigation until receiving the results of Ms Gray’s inquiry.

In December, when a video emerged of the PM’s then spokesman Allegra Stratton and senior No10 staff joking about holding a 2020 Christmas party, the Met said it was its “policy not to investigate retrospective breaches” of coronavirus rules.

Ex-Met Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson said : “I suspect they [the police] will have little choice [but to investigate].

“As always I prefer the police to be doing things like investigating violence and drugs on our streets but I suspect on this that there is little choice.

“Given the expressions of outrage, there will be an investigation.”

A former chief constable added: “By now I’d expect Cressida to say she’ll be doing something because of the huge public interest.

“The Met’s argument that there was nothing to investigate around alleged retrospective breaches won’t satisfy the public, who have seen others fined under lockdown rules.

“I think there is now clear prima facie evidence of invitations being sent to 100 people and the Allegra Stratton video from December.

“The Commissioner must act.”

Sir Hugh Orde, a former president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, told The Times: “The latest revelations provide evidence that there is evidence, if the police choose to look for it. That’s a matter for them.

“There’s certainly an issue of public confidence.”

Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said there were questions for police on duty at the time, adding: “They were monitoring who was going in and out. Did they realise this might not be quite right?

“Was it raised as a concern? On the other side of that big gate, other officers are stopping people on the street and fining them for Covid breaches.”

Stephen Watson, Greater Manchester’s current chief constable, said: “It’s really important that adherence to legislation is uniformly observed and properly enforced.”

A Met spokesman said: “The Metropolitan Police Service is aware of widespread reporting relating to alleged breaches of the Health Protection Regulations at Downing Street on May 20, 2020 and is in contact with the Cabinet Office.”

The police watchdog has decided it will not probe a complaint over the Metropolitan Police’s handling of the alleged No10 Christmas party on December 18, 2020 and its lack of an investigation.

Green Party peer Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb wrote to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, arguing the force had a “case to answer” for “aiding and abetting a criminal offence, or deliberately failing to enforce the law in favour of Government politicians and their staff” due to the “extensive” police presence in Downing Street.

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