Met Police acted without fear or favour on partygate, acting chief Sir Stephen House insists

boris split met police
Boris Johnson received a fixed-penalty notice over a birthday party in the Cabinet Room

The acting head of the Metropolitan Police has launched a bullish defence of the investigation into lockdown busting parties in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

Giving evidence to the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee on Thursday, Sir Stephen House insisted he would not have been swayed by the risk of the Prime Minister being forced to resign and is confident in how the inquiry was carried out.

Admitting that some photographs of the parties "look bad", he said the key legal questions were whether people had a reasonable excuse to be at an event rather than how many others were present.

He said: "I accept that many of the photographs that we are seeing look bad and Sue Gray's report has dealt with that.

"We deal with the law, not what looks bad. And just because there is alcohol present, can I just remind people that the Covid regulations are about breaching Covid regulations, they're not about whether there's drink there or not.

Sir Stephen House appearing before the Police and Crime Committee Credit: London Assembly

"We have to put fixed-penalty notices to people that we think will win in court. And there has to be evidence behind it and there is not always evidence and... a photograph can be somewhat deceptive in these areas."

Sir Stephen added: "We have not, I repeat this, we have not shied away from issuing a fixed-penalty notice where we thought it was deserved.

"We have policed without fear or favour and I would not have presided over anything less than that."

During one event in Downing Street on December 18, 2020, a panic alarm was accidentally triggered and the police officer who responded saw a large number of people outside the press office but failed to challenge them.

'The event looks and smells like a party'

Committee member Caroline Russell put it to Sir Stephen that the event "looks and smells like a party". Staff in other parts of Downing Street reported hearing "significant levels of noise", and red wine was found spilled on a wall and boxes of paper the next morning.

He said: "One of the things we had to decide was, is this gathering, is this event, work-related or not work-related. And that was an important question asked.

The investigation team looked at hundreds of documents including emails, electronic door logs, diary entries, witness statements, photographs, CCTV images and the responses to questionnaires sent to those believed to have attended gatherings, the committee heard.

They looked at "each individual's activity" at each event, how long it lasted and the amount of time they spent there.

Boris Johnson addressing staff in front of a table filled with alcohol at the leaving do.

Sir Stephen also faced questions on how the force decided who should be fined for the November 13 2020 party at Number 10 amid lockdown restrictions.

ITV News obtained images of Boris Johnson raising a glass of wine at the leaving do for his former spin doctor Lee Cain.

Sir Stephen said the Met did issue fines for the event but refused to confirm the Prime Minister did not receive a fine, saying the force had a policy not to name those it issues with fixed-penalty notices.

He insisted the Met was not deterred by the prospect of Mr Johnson potentially having to resign if he were fined more than once.

Sir Stephen said: "I was involved in these decision makings myself, I am very confident of the integrity of the decisions that were made in this investigation, which was a difficult investigation.

"I'm not particularly concerned about what the Prime Minister thinks, I do my job without fear or favour."

The Met has issued 126 FPNs to 83 people involved in a series of events in Downing Street and Whitehall, including on November 13 2020.

On Thursday two more Conservative MPs withdrew their support for Boris Johnson after Sue Gray's report into Covid rule breaking in Downing Street uncovered a raucous culture of drinking.

In damning statements, Billericay and Basildon MP John Baron and Ruislip and Northwood and Pinner MP David Simmonds said the Prime Minister should resign.

'Shameful pattern of misbehaviour'

Mr Baron said the Sue Gray report and the Metropolitan Police investigations painted a "shameful pattern of misbehaviour" during the pandemic.

David Simmonds added to calls for Mr Johnson to step down.

"I listened to what the Prime Minister had to say at Prime Minister’s Questions, his statement and the 1922 Committee yesterday following the publication of the Sue Gray report," the MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner said.

"Having reflected on what he said, and the views of the constituents and my Conservative association, it is clear that while the Government and our policies enjoy the confidence of the public, the Prime Minister does not.

"Accordingly, it is time for him to step down so that new leadership can take forward the important work of the Government in ensuring that our people and country prosper," he added.

Tory MPs John Baron, Julian Sturdy and David Simmonds all want Boris Johnson to quit Credit: Parliament

On Wednesday backbencher Julian Sturdy began the trickle of voices demanding Boris Johnson’s exit.

The Conservative MP for York Outer said the Sue Gray report showed Mr Johnson “has presided over a widespread culture of disregard for the coronavirus regulations”.

In a statement posted on Twitter, he said: “Questions are now being raised about whether the Prime Minister misled Parliament when asked about these events.

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