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Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Can the Met redeem themselves?

The decision by the Metropolitan Police to finally investigate the incessant partying in Downing Street is welcome. As the Guardian reports, it was only on Sunday that the Met decided it had enough evidence to merit a criminal investigation into claims of parties in Downing Street and Whitehall, attended by those who made the onerous lockdown rules:

Discussions at the top of the Met continued throughout Monday, and it was only on Tuesday morning, just before Dick’s announcement before the London assembly, that the scope of those criminal inquiries was decided by the force. That included decisions about which “events” it would investigate, and which it would not.

Ever since Sue Gray’s inquiry started unearthing evidence of wrongdoing, the top civil servant’s team have been sharing information with the police.

By last week, the picture of alleged law-breaking it painted was becoming clearer. By Sunday 23 January, the Met assessed the evidence potentially showed “clear and flagrant” breaches, by people who should have known their actions were breaking the rules, and who were unlikely to have a reasonable excuse for their actions.

In short, the breaches, based on the evidence gathered by Gray’s team, looked clearcut.

Ever since media revelations started in December, the Met has been under fire for its decision not to investigate. Some felt it was hiding behind a policy of not usually investigating Covid rule breaches retrospectively. With each revelation and grudging government admission about parties, the Met’s insistence it was not scared of tangling with those in power was increasingly doubted.

Breaches of Covid rules normally result in a fine. But since they were first introduced in March 2020, the rules have changed more than 70 times. Thus the starting point for the Met special inquiry team who are now investigating is establishing what laws were actually in place. Then they will be looking for any physical evidence Gray may have acquired, such as CCTV showing who was where at certain times, data from security cards also showing the locations of individuals, and emails. Acquiring photos from mobile phones may also help speed up matters.

On Tuesday Dick hinted Gray may already have strong evidence of wrongdoing: “I don’t anticipate any difficulty in obtaining the evidence that it is ... necessary, proportionate and appropriate for us to obtain in order to get to the right conclusions.”

Any fines issued via fixed penalty notices can be paid immediately, or an individual can fight them at a magistrates court. Those who pay up do not get a criminal record, but those who choose to fight the matter in court risk getting one if the magistrates so decide.

One senior police insider said the Met’s strategy had been to wait for the official inquiry’s emerging findings to be shared with them before deciding to launch its own investigation: “It would be wise to wait for Sue Gray.”

One reason for this was that it would prove embarrassing if the Met started an investigation into Johnson’s closest officials, if not the prime minister himself, and then Gray concluded nothing seriously wrong had taken place.

Another factor has been the Met’s past experiences of painful run-ins with politicians – to which Dick has had a ringside seat.

Irrespective of this reasoning, it is my view that the Met has been applying different standards in its decision-making on this controversy, over those it has applied to ordinary citizens. That is an unacceptable approach to policing, Will they be able to redeem themselves now they have the evidence gathered for them by Sue Gray? We will have to wait and see.
It seems to me that Cressida Dick has depended for her advancement on Boris Johnson, firstly when he was mayor of London and now as prime minister. Any delays to or restrictions of the investigation will inevitably call her objectivity into question, and it would have been better for all concerned for an independent police force to be called in.

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