Who is Sue Gray? The civil servant behind the partygate probe into Downing Street gatherings

Sue Gray investigated allegations of government parties that breached Covid restrictions. Credit: PA

The senior civil servant tasked with investigating breaches of coronavirus laws at Whitehall has finally published her findings.

Sue Gray's long-awaited report criticised senior leadership at Number 10, blaming a "failure of leadership" for the party culture in Downing Street.

Ms Gray's investigation has grabbed headlines and rocked the government - but just who is she?

Ms Gray was appointed by Boris Johnson last year to investigate the allegations of Covid rule-breaking in Downing Street, but she was unable to publish her full report after concluding her inquiries because police told her that doing so could prejudice their investigation.

Ms Gray, in her limited report published at the end of January, condemned a "serious failure" in Downing Street to observe Covid standards and said "a number" of gatherings should not have been allowed to take place.

She also said there were "failures of leadership and judgment", adding that the Downing Street garden was "used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight" and "this was not appropriate".

Last week the police probe - known as Operation Hillman - concluded with a total of 126 fines issued by the Met, paving the way for Ms Gray's report to be published.

The police probe was initially launched after Ms Gray passed on evidence suggesting laws had been broken to the police.

Ms Gray published her full report on Wednesday, which included nine pictures.

Several of the images included show Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak, and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case at the prime minister's birthday bash.

Who is Sue Gray?

Ms Gray is second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

She took over the investigation into the alleged Downing Street parties after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case quit his role leading the inquiry.

Mr Case had been hit by accusations that his department's office held its own gathering for a partially virtual quiz on December 17, 2020.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case is alleged to have lobbied Sue Gray to change her report Credit: Aaron Chown/PA

She was previously director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018.

She oversaw the Plebgate inquiry in 2012 after former chief whip Andrew Mitchell was accused of calling a policeman a “pleb” at the Downing Street gates.

She is also part of the panel deciding on who will be next chair of the media regulator Ofcom.

What have others said about her?

Ms Gray has been described as "not a pushover" and "formidable" by Tory MP Richard Holden.

She was also once described by BBC Newsnight’s then policy editor as “the most powerful person you’ve never heard of”.

Labour MP Paul Flynn said the civil servant was “deputy God” in a meeting of Parliament’s Public Administration Committee in 2012 when she oversaw the Plebgate inquiry.

Former Tory MP and Cabinet office minister Oliver Letwin is reported to have said of Ms Gray: “It took me precisely two years before I realised who it is that runs Britain.

"Our great United Kingdom is actually entirely run by a lady called Sue Gray, the head of ethics or something in the Cabinet Office. Unless she agrees, things just don’t happen.”

How did people respond to her appointment?

At the time of her appointment, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said Ms Gray has the task of restoring public trust.

The Scottish National Party’s Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, said “having somebody else from the civil service marking their own isn’t good enough”.

Mr Blackford told the BBC’s Newsnight programme that “it needs to be someone from authority from outwith government, from outwith the civil service. I would suggest that the best way to do that would be by having a judge-led inquiry”.

Ian Blackford has called for a judge-led inquiry Credit: Isabel Infantes/PA

Why did Simon Case quit his role leading the inquiry last year?

Mr Case's department was accused of two gatherings that broke lockdown rules in December 2020 when London was under Tier 3 restrictions, where indoor gatherings of two or more people were not allowed.

A source confirmed to ITV News that a partially virtual quiz took place in the Cabinet Office's office on December 17, with six people who were in the office that day, taking part in person in a socially distanced manner. Most attendees dialled in remotely from home.

However, the source said Mr Case did not actively take part but acknowledged staff. The source added he knew the gathering was happening as he had to walk past the group in order to get to his private office.

The Cabinet Office later confirmed these reports with a spokesperson telling ITV News: “Staff in the Cabinet Secretary’s private office took part in a virtual quiz on December 17 2020.

“A small number of them, who had been working in the office throughout the pandemic and on duty that day, took part from their desks, while the rest of the team were virtual.

“The Cabinet Secretary played no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office on the way to his own office. No outside guests or other staff were invited or present.

“This lasted for an hour and drinks and snacks were bought by those attending. He also spoke briefly to staff in the office before leaving.”

Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street Credit: Stefan Rosseau/PA

After Mr Case was tasked with the investigation earlier this month, the prime minister’s press secretary insisted that “due diligence has been followed” when asked if the Cabinet Secretary had attended an alleged Downing Street party.

Cabinet Office minister Michael Ellis told the Commons Mr Case “was not at any relevant gathering”.

What is Sue Gray's background?

Ms Gray has been a civil servant since the 1970s, but took a career break in the mid-1980s to run a pub with her husband in Newry, Northern Ireland, where she originally hails from.

She returned to Northern Ireland in 2018 to head up the region's Department of Finance. 

She had applied to become Head of the Northern Ireland Civil Service but missed out on the role, with nobody appointed.

Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly said her return to London was a "big loss".

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