The acting head of the Metropolitan Police has been asked by London Mayor Sadiq Khan to explain the force’s decisions over partygate after pictures emerged of Boris Johnson drinking at a gathering for which he was not fined.
Mr Khan wrote to Sir Stephen House on Tuesday to seek answers about the Met’s decisions in individual cases in the Downing Street investigation.
He warned that trust in Scotland Yard was being eroded by a “lack of clarity” around the way decisions were taken during the inquiry into parties which breached coronavirus laws.
Mr Johnson received a fixed-penalty notice (FPN) over a birthday party in the Cabinet Room in June 2020, but was told he would face no further action over other gatherings covered by the Metropolitan Police’s Operation Hillman inquiry.
Those included the November 13 2020 gathering to mark former spin doctor Lee Cain’s departure from No 10, an event at which pictures obtained by ITV apparently showed Mr Johnson raising a toast and drinking wine.
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.
A spokeswoman for Mr Khan said: “Sadiq has today written to the acting Commissioner of the Met to seek a detailed explanation of the factors which were taken into account by investigating officers when decisions were made about whether to take action in individual cases in the Downing Street partygate investigation.
“He has asked them to take steps to also reassure Londoners by making this explanation to them directly, because he is concerned that the trust and confidence of Londoners in the police is being further eroded by this lack of clarity.”
Mr Khan had made clear he would not interfere in operational decisions, but the Met has confirmed that Operation Hillman, which looked at the lockdown-busting events in No 10 and Whitehall, has concluded.
Three anonymous individuals have told BBC Panorama in detail what they witnessed at regular rule-breaking events during coronavirus restrictions.
Their evidence will heap further pressure on the Prime Minister ahead of the publication of the Sue Gray inquiry into “partygate”, which No 10 expects on Wednesday.
Party debris was left overnight for people arriving at work the next day to discover after staff crowded together and sat on each other’s laps at parties, according to the attendees.
One said they felt they had the permission of the Prime Minister as he was not telling them to break up the scenes when returning to his flat.
“No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself,” they said.
Mr Johnson was already under renewed pressure after images obtained by ITV News showed him raising a glass while surrounded by colleagues and bottles of wine.
Days after ordering England’s second national lockdown, the pictures showed the Prime Minister giving a toast for departing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13 2020.
One witness described the party that night: “There were about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s laps ... one or two people.”
“Unforgivable” scenes were described at the party on April 16 last year, which was the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
They described a “lively event... a general party with people dancing around” that became so loud that security guards told them to go into the No 10 grounds.
“So everyone grabbed all the drinks, the food, everything, and went into the garden,” one source said.
“We all sat around the tables drinking. People stayed the night there.”
The insiders said the events were “every week”, with invitations for press office drinks listed in the diary as “Wine-Time Friday”.
One former official described often turning up at No 10 to find it “a mess”.
Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner questioned “who will defend this rotten culture” as she suggested the BBC report portrays “Downing Street as a parallel universe”.
Earlier, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps insisted that Mr Johnson did not believe he was at a lockdown-breaking party in the images showing him raising a glass and surrounded by colleagues and wine bottles.
Mr Shapps said he was “angry” to see the photographs but suggested the Prime Minister may not have been fined over the event because he left the leaving do “pretty quick”.
But the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and Conservative MP Tom Tugendhat told LBC it is “very difficult to have confidence in the Government right now”.
Asked if the UK has a serious Government, Mr Tugendhat told LBC: “Well, that’s exactly the point I’m making.“There is a real problem if you are not serious, if you do not look like you’re serious, if you do not behave as though, frankly, the occupation of governing the United Kingdom is possibly the most serious you’ll ever have, then it does raise questions of competence.”