Partygate: Operation Hillman concludes, further fines issued

Published by Rhys Taylor-Brown on May 19th 2022, 10:10am

The Metropolitan Police have announced that Operation Hillman, their investigation into breaches of Covid lockdown laws in Downing Street and Whitehall, has concluded.

The Met has confirmed that further fines have been issued, taking the total of people receiving fixed penalty notices up to 126, including 53 men and 73 women.

28 people have received more than one fine for their role in multiple events.

The fines relate to events which occurred across eight different dates, including May 20, 2020; June 18, 2020; June 19, 2020; November 13, 2020; December 17, 2020; December 18, 2020; January 14, 2021; and April 16, 2021.

The Met emphasised that their investigation was made more complex by the fact that different Covid regulations were in force across the different dates in question, and it had to place each event in context before determining whether any punitive measures were warranted.

345 documents, including emails, door logs, diary entries and witness statements were examined as part of the probe, alongside 510 photographs and CCTV images. 204 questionnaires were also sent out to individuals of interest who attended the events.

Prime minister Boris Johnson and his wife, Carrie, have both received and paid one fine, issued for their part in a gathering in celebration of the PM's birthday on June 19. 2020. They will face no further action following the conclusion of the probe, the BBC reports.

The Met said in a statement confirming the closure of the inquiry: "Our position from early on in the pandemic was that we would not routinely investigate historic breaches of Covid regulations. This was for two reasons – first that we could not retrospectively engage and inform those involved that they were breaching the rules – an important step in our policing strategy around Covid - and second, that as these were summary-only offences, we did not judge it a proportionate use of officers’ time.

"However, we did recognise that there might be some exceptions to this approach, and set out at the time the criteria that would need to be met for us to consider a retrospective investigation."

The criteria set out by the Met were as follows:

- 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.

The statement added: "Based on the information provided to us by the Cabinet Office in January 2022 and following our own assessment, we judged these criteria had been met and so launched an investigation on January 25, 2022.

"A team of twelve detectives worked 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 a fixed penalty notice referral to be made.

"We took great care to ensure that for each referral we had the necessary evidence to prosecute the fixed penalty notice at court, were it not paid.

"It’s important to remember that during the 11-month period under investigation, legislation changed multiple times, so not all events were subject to the same restrictions."

The Met's acting deputy commissioner, Helen Ball, commented: “There is no doubt that the pandemic impacted all of us in so many ways and strong feelings and opinions have been expressed on this particular issue.

“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.

“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 fixed penalty notice referral.

“This investigation is now complete.”

The ending of the Met investigation now means that the full, unredacted report into Partygate compiled by senior civil servant, Sue Gray, can be released.

A watered-down version of the report was released in late January, with the full document held back to avoid prejudicing the Met's investigation.

The Cabinet Office expects Sue Gray's full report to be publicised next week.

Image taken from Wikimedia Commons

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Authored By

Rhys Taylor-Brown
Junior Editor
May 19th 2022, 10:10am

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