Boris Johnson quizzed on Downing St party amid prosecutions for Covid ‘breaches’

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  • Keir Starmer
    Keir Starmer
    British politician
  • Boris Johnson
    Boris Johnson
    Prime Minister of the United Kingdom since 2019
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons  (PRU/AFP via Getty Images)
Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (PRU/AFP via Getty Images)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is under renewed pressure to hand over evidence of alleged parties in Downing Street to police, after the Evening Standard highlighted a wave of prosecutions over alleged Covid-19 rule-breaking from last Christmas.

Mr Johnson has instructed Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to probe activities inside Downing Street a year ago and told Parliament that he is “furious” about footage - leaked on Tuesday night - appearing to show his aides joking about the issue.

In a Prime Minister’s Questions clash, Labour leader Keir Starmer mocked Justice Secretary Dominic Raab’s earlier suggestion that police forces do not investigate allegations that are a year old - calling it “nonsense” - and urged the Prime Minister to cooperate with the CPS and Scotland Yard.

“At Westminster magistrates court right now, the CPS are prosecuting over a dozen Covid breaches last December, including those who hosted parties”, said Sir Keir.

“They are doing their job, enforcing the law set in Downing Street. Will the Prime Minister support the police and support the CPS by handing over everything the government knows about parties in Downing Street to the Metropolitan Police?”

Responding to the challenge, Mr Johnson said: “Of course I will do that, and we will get on with the investigation by the cabinet secretary.”

On Monday, the Standard’s courts correspondent Tristan Kirk highlighted on Twitter how an alleged illegal gathering in Ilford on December 18 last year – the same day as the reported Downing Street gathering - is the subject of one of a series of prosecutions at Westminster magistrates court this week.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)

Leonard Stoica, 36, from Romford, was accused of taking part in a gathering at the house in Quebec Road, Ilford, when London was in a Tier 3 area and meetings indoors of two or more people were banned without specific exemptions.

Criminal charges have also been laid against Londoners accused of ignoring the Government’s rules in the week leading up to Christmas, when millions around the country were forced to abandon their festive plans due to the spread of Covid-19.

(Rick Findler/PA) (PA Archive)
(Rick Findler/PA) (PA Archive)

On Monday, when questioned about the party claims, Mr Raab suggested police “don’t normally look back and investigate things that have taken place a year ago”.

The Met Police has adopted a policy throughout the pandemic of not investigating alleged Covid offences when its officers did not witness the breach at the time. But the force now faces huge pressure to look into the Downing Street claims.

Wednesday’s cases at Westminster magistrates court, referenced by Sir Keir in Parliament, are the latest of more than 2,000 prosecutions that have taken place through the Single Justice Procedure since last September.

Fines accumulated against Covid-19 rule breakers at Westminster magistrates court since September last year (Tristan Kirk/ES)
Fines accumulated against Covid-19 rule breakers at Westminster magistrates court since September last year (Tristan Kirk/ES)

More than £1.2 million in fines have been imposed at hearings held behind-closed-doors in London, overseen by a single magistrate - sitting with a legal advisor - who assesses the police evidence.

It is not yet known whether defendants in this week’s cases have entered pleas to the charges they face.

The prosecutions are likely to be supported by at least one witness statement from a police officer, and have come to court after the defendants did not pay a fixed penalty for the alleged breach.

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