Those who attended alleged rule-breaking parties at Downing Street during lockdown have been warned they could be in for a grilling by detectives investigating the bashes.
The Metropolitan Police announced yesterday it is going to examine allegations of lockdown parties held in No 10, in a dramatic u-turn on its previous stance.
Officers will have far more firepower to investigate the numerous allegations of illegal gatherings than civil servant Sue Gray, who was set to reveal the findings of her inquiry into partygate this week.
Amid reports No 10 staffers may have deliberately withheld information from the Cabinet Office inquiry detectives will try to obtain material that has been withheld.
Officers will be able to compel suspects to turn over evidence or submit to interviews.
A source from within the force has told The Times officers will have ‘no hesitation’ in using such powers if there is any evidence of a cover-up.
Anyone who admits to attending an illegal gathering is unlikely to face more than £100 fixed penalty notice, a serving inspector told MailOnline.
But anyone caught providing false evidence or interfering with the police investigation could end up with a charge of perverting the course of justice, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The last politician to be prosecuted under the offence was Labour MP Fiona Onasanya, after she lied to police to avoid a speeding ticket.
The Met’s investigation will be led by the force’s special inquiries team, and deputy assistant commissioner Jane Connors.
An anonymous serving police inspector has been quoted as saying detectives will start the investigation by examining the evidence submitted in the Gray report.
‘The detectives will be looking to prove the people who were claimed to have been in the garden were actually there by using evidence from interviews and checking any entry and exit information,’ he told MailOnline.
‘If the suspects admit to being there, the result will be a fixed penalty notice.
‘But if they deny it then a police supervisor will have to review the evidence and decide whether the person should be charged to appear in court.’
He said anyone caught providing false information to officers could find themselves in far more trouble than if they had just admitted to the offence straight away.
‘If you say you didn’t do it and claim you were somewhere else and show evidence that turns out to be false then you could be prosecuted for perverting the course of justice.
‘That would be far more serious than taking a fixed penalty notice. You could get a criminal record and go to prison.
‘People need to be aware that their lies could be more costly than telling the truth,’ he told MailOnline.
The Met decided to investigate the numerous allegations of lockdown parties after it was presented with ‘outline findings’ from the Gray report, suggesting it has uncovered evidence of potential law-breaking.
The force previously declined to probe ‘partygate’, saying it does not generally examine Covid-19 rule breaches after they have occurred.
Announcing the u-turn, commissioner Dame Cressida Dick said: ‘As a result firstly of information provided by the Cabinet Office inquiry team and secondly my officers’ own assessment, I can confirm that the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing Street and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
‘My officers have assessed several other events that appear to have taken place at Downing Street and Whitehall on the available information – these other events are assessed as not reaching the threshold for criminal investigation.’
It’s unclear which of the several allegations covering Downing Street and other government departments will be included in the scope of the Met’s inquiry.
Dame Cressida has said the force would not provide a ‘running commentary’ on the investigation and could not say when it would be expected to report back.
The prime minister may well have to speak to detectives working on the investigation.
If he does, he will be the first sitting prime minister who has been questioned by police since Tony Blair in 2006 over the cash for access scandal.
Mr Johnson’s spokesperson has made it clear he would ‘fully cooperate’ with the investigation, signalling he is willing to be interviewed.
Get in touch with our news team by emailing us at email@example.com.
For more stories like this, check our news page.