5.9k Share this
Scotland Yard’s ballooning Partygate probe came under fire from MPs yesterday after the number of suspects under investigation doubled to more than 100.
Detectives looking at alleged lockdown-busting parties held in Downing Street and Whitehall announced they had ramped up the inquiry, doubling the number of questionnaires being sent out to party attendees and interviewing ‘key witnesses’.
But critics questioned the need to conduct scores of interviews for a fixed penalty notice.
There is also concern that the need for interviews suggests that a large number of those accused have denied breaching Covid rules.
Ministers have questioned why the Metropolitan Police have decided to hold dozens more interviews for lockdown parties at No.10 Downing Street, extending an already nearly two month probe (picture: Boris Johnson at the Scottish Conservative Party conference)
MP Iain Duncan-Smith (pictured) questioned the relevance of the investigation, given the ongoing war in Ukraine and threat of nuclear war
Yesterday the Metropolitan Police said that ‘further individuals have been identified’ as a result of responses to the questionnaires, indicating that some Downing Street and Whitehall staff may have implicated colleagues.
Last night the force refused to say whether those being interviewed were also attendees of the parties. But a Downing Street spokesman confirmed police had not interviewed Boris Johnson.
To date, no one has been fined nearly two months after the probe was launched.
The controversial inquiry comes after a record year for teenage killings in the capital, with 30 deaths in 2021. The force is also battling an epidemic of violence against women and girls, with sexual offences up 38 per cent in the year to February compared to last year.
Last night former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith asked: ‘What is the point of all this now?’
He said: ‘I’m just puzzled that they seem to be ploughing away at this when there are so many other things to deal with at the moment that are critical around running Government and when it comes to a real threat to the freedom of the Western world.
‘Right now, we have bigger fish to fry in the sense that there is a real situation around Russia invading Ukraine and threatening a nuclear war to the rest of Nato.’
MP Michael Fabricant said that the timing of the ongoing investigation was ‘not the greatest’
Tory MP Michael Fabricant said: ‘Due process needs to be followed, but the timing – when we are virtually at war – is not the greatest.’
As the investigation, known as Operation Hillman, drags on, the force revealed it was going through a ‘significant amount of investigative material’. Originally, police said more than 50 questionnaires had been sent out, with respondents given seven days to explain their participation at gatherings during the lockdown.
But yesterday that had doubled to more than 100, with yet more people being contacted as witnesses. It is thought that officers have already received the majority of the responses, including from the Prime Minister, who attended as many as six of the 12 events being probed.
Officers now have to ‘individually assess every response’, which may include talking to work colleagues or bosses to determine if their account is true and whether their excuse is reasonable.
A Metropolitan Police spokesman said: ‘As a result of responses so far, further individuals have been identified and questionnaires sent to them.
‘As the investigation continues, we may need to contact more people as further information comes to light. This investigation involves a significant amount of investigative material; the serving of over 100 questionnaires and the need to individually assess every response.
‘The offences under consideration comprise a number of elements and the legislation itself changed between the event dates. We are progressing the investigation as quickly as possible.
‘As yet, we have not made any referrals to the ACRO Criminal Records Office for the issuing of fixed penalty notices. However, every questionnaire response is being assessed alongside all available evidence, and should this reach the evidential threshold, then referrals will be made.’
Source: Daily Mail