DAILY MAIL COMMENT: Met’s investigation of cheese and wine parties in Downing Street is a shambles
How on earth has it come to this? The heart of government paralysed for weeks, if not months, as police crawl over Downing Street hunting for evidence of illicit cheese and wine parties.
The rest of the world was already looking on in bemused wonder at our baffling lack of perspective.
Yesterday the situation was made infinitely worse.
Police investigating ‘Partygate’ effectively blocked full publication of mandarin Sue Gray’s Cabinet Office inquiry into the affair until they have finished their deliberations.
So instead of being able to draw a line and move on, British politics is to be kept in suspended animation indefinitely.
How on earth has it come to this? The heart of government paralysed for weeks, if not months, as police crawl over Downing Street hunting for evidence of illicit cheese and wine parties
Yesterday the situation was made infinitely worse. Police investigating ‘Partygate’ effectively blocked full publication of mandarin Sue Gray’s Cabinet Office inquiry into the affair until they have finished their deliberations
This sorry saga that could and should have been dealt with by the Gray inquiry has morphed into a grotesque perversion of natural justice and common sense.
Meanwhile, small matters like the imminent threat of war in Europe and cost of living crisis are thrust on to the back burner, as No 10 staff consult lawyers, prepare statements and look for new jobs in order to escape the madhouse.
What a complete shambles!
By pre-emptively referring her inquiry findings to the Metropolitan Police, Sue Gray has passed the buck.
She could easily have published her report in full and left the police to decide for themselves if laws had been broken. Sadly, she seems to have been unwilling to take that responsibility.
Now Met Commissioner Cressida Dick is on the case, who knows where it will end up. If experience is anything to go by, down a blind alley at an eye-watering cost in time and resources.
Why she wasn’t sacked years ago for her own many failings is one of the great mysteries of our time.
Her reputation for competence is roughly on a par with the hapless Frank Spencer, of Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em fame.
Yet here she is, passing judgment on the Prime Minister and his staff over matters that may be politically incendiary but in strict legal terms are trivial.
Now Met Commissioner Cressida Dick is on the case, who knows where it will end up. If experience is anything to go by, down a blind alley at an eye-watering cost in time and resources
With risible pomposity Commissioner Dick says her officers will go ‘where the evidence takes them’, as if they were investigating some major criminal conspiracy.
Yet the Yard has confirmed that it is not looking at anything more than basic Covid breaches, which usually carry a fixed £100 penalty.
They are misdemeanours at the very bottom of the scale; non-recordable summary offences akin to parking violations. So why are the police shelling out an estimated £1 million they can ill afford to investigate them?
The inquiry is already showing inconsistencies. At first, Dick said there was no need to delay publication of the Gray report on her account.
By yesterday, she had changed tack. Sue Gray is now being warned not to publish the report in full.
In essence, she has been given permission to release inconsequential material, but to make only ‘minimal reference’ to any of the matters under investigation.
What would be the earthly point of that? The country needs to see the whole report in its proper context, not some half-baked, redacted version. What’s more we need it now.
Placing it under a sub-judice blanket is a ludicrous over-reaction. But it’s depressingly predictable.
Remember the VIP paedophile travesty and the millions Commissioner Dick poured down the drain in failed prosecutions of journalists? Here we go again.
After all, what are we talking about here? Dozens of mainly young, hard-working civil servants and advisers sharing food and drink in a work setting. Some scandal.
Far more reprehensible was the behaviour of Dominic Cummings, the biggest lockdown hypocrite of them all. His journey from London to Durham and then Barnard Castle was not only in flagrant breach of the then restrictions, but he shamelessly lied about his reasons for being there
Yes, they appear to have overstepped the mark and should have been better supervised. People were hurt and offended, but this is not some malign conspiracy.
Dripping with fake emotion, Sir Keir Starmer (no stranger to glaring lockdown breaches himself) loves to claim that Downing Street staff were whooping it up, while ordinary folk couldn’t visit dying relatives in care homes, attend funerals and so on. It is a bogus comparison and he knows it. There is simply no equivalence.
Hundreds of people work in Downing Street, and were straining every sinew for up to 16 hours a day during lockdown to help combat the worst global pandemic in living memory.
Many of them would also have been unable to see close relatives for months on end and almost certainly will have suffered family tragedy themselves, including bereavements.
Does Sir Keir think they were crashing into locked-down care homes with party hats and streamers? Or inviting 100 people to bring their own bottle to a funeral reception? Of course not.
There isn’t the slightest evidence these public servants weren’t observing Covid rules outside Downing Street.
And even inside, the Mail has no doubt they thought their gatherings were permissible within a work ‘bubble’.
Far more reprehensible was the behaviour of Dominic Cummings, the biggest lockdown hypocrite of them all.
His journey from London to Durham and then Barnard Castle was not only in flagrant breach of the then restrictions, but he shamelessly lied about his reasons for being there.
Dripping with fake emotion, Sir Keir Starmer (no stranger to glaring lockdown breaches himself) loves to claim that Downing Street staff were whooping it up, while ordinary folk couldn’t visit dying relatives in care homes, attend funerals and so on. It is a bogus comparison and he knows it. There is simply no equivalence
Yet he is now slinging mud at his former colleagues and desperately trying to destroy his former boss. He’s like a Mafioso pursuing a blood vendetta.
So let’s look at where the police might take this inquiry. Anything staff told Sue Gray, while available to detectives, carries little legal force as it was said during an internal inquiry, not a criminal one.
They could interview dozens of staff members under caution about every alleged party and possibly even ask for laptop and mobile phone data.
But for such minor offences that would be a grotesque waste of time and money — as well as a blatant abuse of power.
While Partygate has profound political implications, the worst punishment anyone deemed to have breached the rules will get is a fixed penalty notice. Where is the sense of proportion?
And before throwing stones at Downing Street, Commissioner Dick might first look inside her own rickety glass house.
The cruel hounding of elderly public servants on trumped up paedophile charges, the rape and murder of Sarah Everard by one of her officers, the sharing of pictures of murder victims on sick WhatsApp groups all suggest she should be paying attention to the troubling culture closer to home.
Then there is the terrifyingly low clear-up rate for serious crime in the Met area, a blade epidemic, a sinister underbelly of terrorism and much else. Instead of political posturing, she should get back to some grass-roots policing.
The biggest question, of course, is where all this leaves Boris Johnson. There has been speculation that Sue Gray has found fresh evidence that he may have knowingly broken the rules, which is why she called in the Yard.
If that’s true, he’s in trouble. But is it? Who knows?
Almost any other finding would be of little importance. Modest fines for a few obscure civil servants is hardly likely to create a political earthquake.
But we won’t now know the truth for months, leaving the Government under a cloud when it should be devoting all its energies to our post-Covid recovery.
It’s almost exactly 50 years since the great reforming Commissioner and Normandy veteran Sir Robert Mark took over at the Yard, cleaned out the dead wood, ended the institutionalised corruption and laid the foundations of modern policing.
He must be spinning in his grave like a centrifuge at the way his legacy is being mocked.
If she wants to retrieve any shred of credibility, Commissioner Dick should sanction the full publication of the Gray report immediately. The country needs to see all the facts, achieve closure — and move on. Not in three months’ time, or even three weeks. Now!