David Hencke, who sat on the Gosport War Memorial Hospital inquiry, explores why Dame Cressida Dick’s decision to redact large parts of the Sue Gray report is such a departure from the norm

The extraordinary stand by Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick over how much of Sue Gray’s inquiry into the scandal of the Downing Street parties can be published defies belief.

The Met has instructed Gray that large sections of the report referring to around eight lockdown-breaking parties cannot be published because the police want to investigate them and do not want the people involved to be prejudiced by a factual report on their outrageous, highly embarrassing behaviour.

From both a Whitehall and an inquiry perspective, this is both disturbing and completely out of proportion.

The people involved in the parties work in the rabbit warren that is Numbers 10 and 11 Downing Street and are politically-charged individuals who live and drink politics 24/7. To think that publishing the report in full will somehow make it more difficult for these individuals to answer the Met’s questions is ridiculously naïve.

Alongside reports that the Met is only considering potential offences that would result in fixed penalty notices, rather than a jury trial, the decision to redact major sections of Gray’s report is even more questionable.

The Met is actually already making it easier for the individuals involved by deciding to contact them by letter rather than an individual interview, allowing them to confer with each other and probably concoct explanations even more bizarre than those already given by Boris Johnson – such as his claim that a “bring your own booze” party was a work meeting.

The more serious issue is that the Met Police is stopping the release of information that should be in the public domain as part of a factual investigation. This goes against the entire tradition of fact-finding reports issued by Whitehall and independent inquiries. They publish the facts first; then the police investigate; and the Crown Prosecution Service decides whether to prosecute.

For a start, Sue Gray – a highly experienced civil servant – is an investigator not a regulator. She can only present the facts – she cannot order the Prime Minister to do anything about it. Gray can only expose what happened and leave the court of public opinion to judge.

There is a long tradition of much more serious independent inquiries in the UK, including judge-led inquiries and independent panels. They are there to dig out the facts, not to convict people of criminal activity. And the facts become public before the police intervene.

Take the Gosport War Memorial Hospital and the Hillsborough inquiries. Both involved serious investigations – Hillsborough into the death of 96 Liverpool football fans in 1989; and Gosport into the premature deaths of 456 elderly people who had been given a cocktail of drugs between 1987 and 2001. In both cases, neither South Yorkshire Police nor Hampshire Constabulary demanded that, if the report included facts that put people in a bad light, it should not be published. Indeed, neither force knew what the contents of the inquiries would say.

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Then there is the current judge-led Grenfell inquiry, into the 2017 tragedy which killed 72 of the tower block’s residents and took place on the Met’s patch. Given the scope of the inquiry – covering everything from defective cladding to the response of the London Fire Brigade – it is quite probable that it could be followed by a police investigation. Is Cressida Dick going to tell the judge not to publish or censor the findings because she wants her force to investigate? I don’t think so.

These inquiries were into events more serious than those in Downing Street. Nobody died as a result of the parties – the people who died, often alone, were in care homes and hospitals. The embarrassment for the Government was that its people were seen to be above the rules they imposed on other people who could not visit their dying relatives or attend their funerals.

In making such an inexplicable decision, I believe the Met Police Commissioner is also thinking of her future career. She has the prospect of a two-year extension to her role to be decided by ultra Johnson supporter, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, and like many previous prominent police chiefs the likelihood of a peerage.

But what she has done is compound the ‘one rule for them, another for us’ view of the British establishment. Not only did Boris Johnson and his senior staff decide that they are above the law, she has now given them privileged privacy while the police investigate their breaches of lockdown restrictions.

This privilege was not afforded to any other individuals involved in significant inquiries in recent years. What makes this Government special?

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