LONDON: Scotland Yard said on Thursday that the police investigation into alleged breaches of COVID-19 lockdown regulations at the UK government offices in Downing Street and Whitehall under Operation Hillman has been completed.
The Metropolitan Police said the total number of referrals for fixed penalty notices (FPNs), or fines, in the so-called partygate scandal stand at 126 and they relate to events between May 2020 and April 2021.
While the force does not reveal the identity of those issued with fines, Downing Street has previously confirmed that Boris Johnson, his wife Carrie and Chancellor Rishi Sunak were among those fined for a birthday party in the Cabinet Room for the British Prime Minister in June 2020.
"When COVID regulations were introduced, the Met was clear that whilst we would not routinely investigate breaches of regulations retrospectively, there may be occasions when it would be appropriate to do so," said Helen Ball, Acting Deputy Commissioner for the Metropolitan Police.
"The information that we received with regard to the alleged breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall was sufficient to reach our criteria to begin such an investigation. Our investigation was thorough and impartial and was completed as quickly as we could, given the amount of information that needed to be reviewed and the importance of ensuring that we had strong evidence for each FPN referral. This investigation is now complete," she said.
The criteria used by the force to consider such a "retrospective investigation" was that: there was evidence that those involved knew or ought to have known that what they were doing was an offence; where not investigating would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law; and where there was little ambiguity around the absence of any reasonable defence.
"We will not be releasing or confirming the identity of anyone involved in this investigation or providing further details of our findings, in line with the approach we've taken throughout the pandemic," the Metropolitan Police said.
The breakdown of those sanctioned was revealed as 53 men and 73 women, with some receiving more than one fines - which are set on a gradation scale, starting at GBP 100 and rising to GBP 300. Such fines or fixed penalty notices are a sanction for breaking the law and mean a fine needs to be paid within 28 days unless contested.
If someone chooses to contest the fine, the police will then review the case and decide whether to withdraw the fine or take the matter to court. The amount of the fine gets halved if paid early without a legal challenge, as done by Johnson and Sunak. "We took great care to ensure that for each referral we had the necessary evidence to prosecute the FPN at court, were it not paid," the Met said.
The force said it deployed a team of 12 detectives working through 345 documents, including emails, door logs, diary entries and witness statements, 510 photographs and CCTV images and 204 questionnaires as part of a careful and thorough enquiry.
Each line of enquiry looked at the date, the circumstances behind each event, and the actions of the individual, benchmarked against the legislation at that time, to establish whether their behaviour met the criminal threshold for an FPN referral to be made.
There were a string of gatherings under the police scanner to determine whether there was a breach of the law, which at the time imposed a strict ban on social gatherings with anyone outside your own household to control the spread of coronavirus.
The conclusion of the police investigation clears the way for top civil servant Sue Gray's report into the partygate scandal, which posed a major challenge to Johnson's leadership earlier this year, to be published in full.