Today
Tue 25 January 2022

Hundreds of people were hit with penalties for breaking the rules set and violated by Downing Street, Sam Bright reports

Byline Times can reveal 512 fines for COVID-19 regulation breaches were handed out in London during the weeks when Downing Street reportedly held two parties.

Reports in recent days have suggested that two events were held in Downing Street while COVID-19 restrictions were being strengthened during the Christmas period last year. The first was allegedly held on 27 November, a leaving party for a Downing Street advisor, followed on 18 December by a Christmas party.

There were reportedly 40 people at the latter event, with staff encouraged to bring ‘Secret Santa’ presents. Footage surfaced yesterday of Boris Johnson’s then spokesperson Allegra Stratton hosting a mock press conference on 22 December and seemingly joking about the party held the previous week. “This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced,” Stratton said, while laughing.

There has been widespread fury about this footage, as the Government has maintained that no Christmas party took place and that COVID restrictions were followed at all times.

At the time of the November event, the Government’s regulations stipulated that people were not allowed to meet indoors or in private gardens – while individuals were permitted to meet only one other person from another household outside in a public place.

By 18 December, London had been elevated to the highest level of COVID-19 restrictions, tier 3, meaning that people were only allowed to mix indoors with their household and members of their support bubble.

Metropolitan Police statistics show that 166 fixed penalty notices were handed out for breaches of COVID restrictions – including unlawful gatherings – during the week of 23 November, while a further 346 were handed out in the capital during the week beginning 14 December. A total of 13,287 fixed penalty notices were handed out by the Met from the week of the 14 December to the week of 22 February, as the country battled with new COVID variants.

Penalties ranged from £200 for the failure to wear a face covering to £10,000 for organised gatherings. More than 85,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued to people said to have broken COVID-19 restrictions since March 2020.

Some 514 people died of COVID-19 on 18 December last year, and 425 died on 27 November.

Opposition politicians, and many external observers, are now calling on the Met to investigate Downing Street’s alleged breach of lockdown rules. The force has so far not commissioned an official investigation, though it is reviewing the footage of Stratton at the mock press conference.

“It is our policy not to routinely investigate retrospective breaches of the COVID-19 regulations, however the footage will form part of our considerations,” the Met said.

In response to these stories, Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said that: “Nearly 150,000 people have died from COVID in the UK. [Downing Street] partied, we paid.”

At Prime Minister’s Questions earlier today, the Prime Minister said that he was “furious” about the video footage and said that he apologised “unreservedly for the offence that it gave up and down the country”. However, Johnson continued to insist that no party took place – despite announcing that he has asked Cabinet Secretary Simon Case to establish all the facts and to report back as soon as possible.

Johnson promised disciplinary action for all those involved in rules breaches.

This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigative project formed by Byline Times with The Citizens. If you would like to find out more about the Intelligence Team and how to fund its work, click on the button below.

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