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London police accused of ‘stitch-up’ over refusal to probe Downing Street parties

Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick was accused of presiding over an “establishment stitch-up” on Friday as the London force stood by its refusal to investigate Downing Street over lockdown parties.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey urged Dick not to let UK prime minister Boris Johnson “off the hook” as Number 10 was forced to issue an apology to Queen Elizabeth for two staff parties in April last year that were held the night before the funeral of her husband, Prince Philip. The monarch sat alone during the service in compliance with Covid-19 regulations at the time.

Davey said it was “clear to everyone” that Johnson had broken the law over lockdown rules: earlier this week the prime minister offered a partial apology to parliament after admitting he attended a “bring your own booze” party at Number 10 during lockdown in May 2020.

“Cressida Dick mustn’t let him off the hook through a shady establishment stitch-up,” he said. “The Met commissioner might think it’s one rule for Boris Johnson and another rule for everyone else, but that doesn’t make it right.”

The Met responded to questions by reiterating its previous position that it was in touch with the Cabinet Office, which is conducting an investigation into the parties led by senior civil servant Sue Gray. The force has said if that probe produced any further evidence, it would examine it.

Jamie Klingler, from Reclaim These Streets, near the bandstand in London where the vigil for Sarah Everard was broken up by police last year © Aaron Chown/PA

Asked about reports that staff brought a suitcase full of wine into Downing Street for one of the parties last April and whether officers were aware, the force said it did not discuss protective security arrangements at government buildings.

Dal Babu, a former senior Met officer who carried out security duties at Downing Street earlier in his career, said the force had got itself into a “real muddle” over the apparent breaches.

“I think the police made a decision not to investigate right at the beginning,” Babu said, referring to when the first reports of Downing Street parties in breach of lockdown regulations appeared in November. “I should imagine they would have consulted with senior politicians around that, and I think it was a mistake because that has now become the story.”

A protester is arrested by Met officers at last year’s vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard
A protester is arrested by Met officers at last year’s vigil for murder victim Sarah Everard © IKristian Buus/In Pictures/Getty Images

The position has angered Jamie Klingler, organiser of a Reclaim These Streets vigil last year on London’s Clapham Common. The event was broken up by the Met, which made four arrests, because the force said it breached coronavirus restrictions.

The vigil took place on March 13 last year, a month before the April 16 Downing Street parties, and was held to commemorate Sarah Everard, who was abducted, raped and murdered by Wayne Couzens, a serving Met officer at the time.

“Fury and rage doesn’t begin to convey my feelings at the hypocrisy of the Met, who don’t serve the women of London,” Klingler said.

The Met has declined to investigate reports of at least six separate parties at Downing Street — one in May 2020, two in November 2020, one in December 2020 and the two last April — on the grounds it would not normally investigate breaches of the coronavirus rules retrospectively.

The force is already under intense scrutiny over its culture and attitudes following Everard’s murder and a string of botched investigations.

Kieron McArdle
Kieron McArdle, who was fined for a lockdown breach last year, said he was ‘angry and frustrated’ about the Met’s stance © Sky News

Kieron McArdle, who was fined in March last year after two friends surprised him on his birthday to come and drink with him in his garden, said he too was “angry and frustrated” about the Met’s stance.

McArdle and his friends each faced a £200 fine, reduced to £100 each for quick payment, over the incident, in Coleshill, Warwickshire.

McArdle said he and his friends had accepted what they did was wrong, paid the fines and thought nothing more of the matter until revelations about the Downing Street parties started to emerge.

“The Met Police are basically holding doors open for them and carrying drinks trays for them,” McArdle said. “They’re as completely in it as the politicians.”

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