You wouldn’t have known it from Cressida Dick’s cool performance in front of her political interrogators, but she has been dragged reluctantly, if not kicking and screaming, into launching the Number 10 party investigation.
A retired officer described such sensitive investigations as “career threatening territory”. And he didn’t mean for the prime minister.
Scotland Yard‘s policy of not examining historical COVID breaches has been ignored in the face of mounting evidence and public concern, although the Met commissioner insists it’s not the first such investigation and she will “do the right thing”.
Read more: How is the Met Police inquiry into No 10 COVID breaches different to Sue Gray’s – and what could it cover?
At the end of all this, some of those in trouble might be the various police officers who could – should? – have been aware there were parties going on and at least intervened.
They were doing that at gatherings of ordinary folk all over London during the pandemic, regularly citing their gentle “4Es” approach of Engage, Explain, Encourage and, as a last resort, Enforce the unprecedented coronavirus health laws.
It was a Metropolitan Police initiative that was later adopted across the country, but seemingly not in a small area of Westminster.
Read more from February 2021: Almost 70,000 COVID lockdown fines handed out, with steep rise since Christmas
It’s more than a suspicion and it was a damning statement from London Assembly member Unmesh Desai that preceded the commissioner’s revelation of the No 10 investigation: “The proximity of your officers to the rule-breaking taking place… the perception that you’re covering for those in power has been building for some time.”
‘We will find out about that’
How many officers might have known what was going on? Well, those who guard the gates to Downing Street past whom the suitcase of wine bottles must have been trundled, the PM’s protection team and the cop on the door, for starters, though the Commissioner spoke mysteriously of “the ones you see”, suggesting there are others.
Dame Cressida wouldn’t be drawn on whether her officers had turned a blind eye but added, ominously: “In relation to anything they may have seen or heard or done or not done… if that’s a relevant matter we will find out about that.”
The bigger issue, of course, is how far her special inquiry team goes in search of new evidence. It’s unlikely anyone will get arrested, but principal suspects and key witnesses are likely to be interviewed “under caution”, the more formal process that’s short of having your collar felt.
But whatever the force does it will be damned, as it was the last time it launched a major investigation into the then Labour government and other political parties over the cash-for-honours scandal in 2006.
I remember getting a tip off about the arrest of Labour’s chief fund-raiser, Lord Levy, the tennis-playing pal of then prime minister Tony Blair.
It was deemed so sensitive my source insisted I didn’t report it myself, but hand it over to a colleague in case anyone thought the tip had come from a cop.
His lordship said later he was arrested only so detectives could get access to documents he would have handed them willingly anyway.
Investigation leaks hastened PM’s departure
The upshot was that no one was ever charged, and the police were accused of overreacting, but the leaks from the investigation were thought to have damaged the Labour Party and hastened Blair’s resignation months later.
Dame Cressida claims defiantly to have led more “politically-charged” investigations than any other senior officer, but she can hardly be relishing this one.