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champagne problems

Detectives investigating No 10 parties to start contacting people believed to have taken part

The Mirror earlier published a photo showing the Prime Minister near a prosecco bottle during a Christmas quiz.

LAST UPDATE | 9 Feb 2022

DETECTIVES INVESTIGATING LOCKDOWN parties in Downing Street are to send out questionnaires to people believed to have taken part, Scotland Yard has said.

Before the end of the week, officers from what has been named Operation Hillman will begin contacting more than 50 people thought to have been involved in events which are the subject of police inquiries.

The announcement came after the Metropolitan Police said they would be widening their inquiries to cover a quiz night in No 10 on December 2020 after a photograph emerged of Boris Johnson and colleagues near an open bottle of sparkling wine.

In a statement the Met said the questionnaire would ask for “an account and explanation of the recipient’s participation” in an event which is the subject of police inquiries.

Recipients will be advised that the questionnaire has “formal legal status” and that their response is required within seven days. In most cases the contact will be by email.

“It should be noted that being contacted does not mean a fixed penalty notice will necessarily be issued to that person,” the statement said.

“Nevertheless, if following an investigation, officers believe it is appropriate because the Covid regulations have been breached without a reasonable excuse, a fixed penalty notice will normally be issued.

“We understand the interest in and impact of this case, and are progressing the investigation at pace. We are committed to completing our investigations proportionately, fairly and impartially.”

Sue Gray’s interim report last week disclosed that police were investigating 12 different events in No 10 and Whitehall over the course of 2020 and 2021 for possible breaches of Covid rules.

They include the notorious “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 attended by Johnson and a gathering in the Prime Minister’s official flat in November 2020.

The Met said the Operation Hillman special inquiry team was continuing to examine more than 500 documents and 300 images provided to them by the Cabinet Office and would be seeking further information to assist their inquiry.

It warned that there may be a need to contact further people in the coming days and weeks should they be identified as having taken part in an event that potentially breached regulations.

Prosecco and crisps

Earlier The Mirror published a photo showing the Prime Minister and three members of staff – one wearing tinsel and another in a Santa hat – near what appears to be an uncorked bottle of prosecco and an open bag of crisps at the “virtual quiz” night on 15 December 2020.

In a statement, the Met said it had previously been assessed that the event did not meet the “threshold for criminal investigation” but that decision was being reviewed.

At Prime Minister’s Questions Johnson was challenged by Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who said the image appeared to show “one of the Christmas parties he told us never happened”.

He added: “Will the Prime Minister be referring this party to the police as it is not one of the ones currently being investigated?”

Johnson responded: “In what he has just said, I’m afraid he is completely in error.”

Challenged again during PMQs, Johnson added: “That event already has been submitted for investigation.”

Tory MP Neil Hudson called for all the evidence to be published to stem the “drip, drip, drip” of alleged Covid breaches and “upsetting images”, in a sign the revelation was further damaging Conservatives’ view of Johnson.

“I’m incredibly disappointed and upset. Yet again I have to say that categorically I will not defend the indefensible,” the Penrith and The Border MP told GB News.

“I’m very clear that if rules have been broken, and indeed if the law has been broken, it doesn’t matter how serious you are, there has to be serious consequences.”

London was under Tier 2 restrictions at the time, which prohibited social mixing between different households indoors.

Official guidance said: “Although there are exemptions for work purposes, you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s hostile former chief adviser, tweeted “there’s waaaaay better pics than that floating around”, including of inside Johnson’s official Downing Street flat.

Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer who has been examining Covid laws, said it “seems obvious” from the new photo that Mr Johnson is “participating in a social gathering”.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary insisted the event was a “virtual quiz” but was unable to say whether the photograph had been submitted to the Gray inquiry.

“I’m not going to get into precise evidence but she obviously had access to all the evidence she needed,” the press secretary said.

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