Sue Gray report details damming details of Downing Street parties

Sue Gray’s edited report on alleged lockdown-breaking parties in government is relatively brief (only 12 pages) but contains a series of important elements. Here is what it says.

There were serious failures of leadership and judgment

Gray’s conclusion is general, after police asked her to remove details of the majority of alleged events, which are being investigated for alleged offences, but damning in parts. At a time when ministers were asking citizens to severely limit their lives, “some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify”, she wrote.

Some gatherings “represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time”, she said, adding: “There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.”

Police are investigating 12 alleged social events

Gray’s report looked at 16 gatherings, on 12 dates between May 2020 and April 2021. Of these, the Metropolitan police are not looking at four of them. One alleged event has not been previously reported, on 14 January 2021. It is described as “a gathering in No 10 Downing Street on the departure of two No 10 private secretaries”.

This is not the “meaningful” report Gray intended

There is a particularly strongly worded section outlining how the police asked last week that Gray edit her report so that it not contain details of the events it was investigating. Gray makes it plain this should not be seen as the final word on the parties: “Unfortunately, this necessarily means that I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather.”

This means she cannot even give details of the four parties

To do so would be impossible “without detriment to the overall balance of the findings”, Gray said.

Gray will not divulge the other information – at least not yet

Having turned over information about the 12 alleged events to police, Gray said she would ensure the “secure storage and safekeeping of all the information gathered until such time as it may be required further”, adding: “I will not be circulating the information internally within government.”

Three events we have not heard about before

Gray lists three events which had not been revealed, and about which little is known: a gathering in the Cabinet Office on 18 June 2020 for the departure of a No 10 private secretary; on 17 December 2020, a gathering in No 10 for the departure of a No 10 official; and on 14 January 2021, another No 10 event for the departure of two private secretaries.

Inquiry: Interviews, emails, photos, messages, official logs

Gray sets out the extent of her investigation. She explained she had carried out “interviews of over 70 individuals, some more than once, and examined relevant documentary and digital information, such as emails; WhatsApp messages; text messages; photographs and building entry and exit logs.”

Gray said she had also had access to “official records … the investigative work is now essentially complete”.

Covid context: “Every citizen impacted by pandemic”

Gray acknowledges Downing Street and the Cabinet Office “were at the centre of the government’s response to the pandemic. Tight knit groups of officials and advisers worked long hours under difficult conditions in buildings that could not be easily adapted as Covid secure workplaces.”

But she then notes “those challenges, however, also applied to key and frontline workers across the country who were working under equally, if not more, demanding conditions, often at risk to their own health.”

She added: “Every citizen has been impacted by the pandemic. Everyone has made personal sacrifices, some the most profound, having been unable to see loved ones in their last moments or care for vulnerable family and friends.”

Alcohol is too ubiquitous around No 10

Gray’s quote speaks for itself: “The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every government department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.”

The No 10 garden was misused

While saying it was “sensible” to hold outdoor staff meetings in the garden, Gray said the garden “was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight”.

Staff felt unable to speak up

Some staff wanted to raise concerns, the report found, “but at times felt unable to do so”. Gray added: “No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it.”

No 10 is too large and without proper direction

Gray says that the number of people working in No 10 has increased, but that “the structures that support the smooth operation of Downing Street, however, have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands of this expansion.”

Leadership structures “are fragmented and complicated”, she says.

Without naming the official, she says that “too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the prime minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.”

Conclusion: “Significant learning must be addressed immediately”

Gray says the gatherings she looked at were spread over a 20-month period – a period, she says, “that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public”.

She says the whole of the “country rose to the challenge”, including ministers, special advisers and the civil service.

But she is clear that mistakes were made – and immediate remedial action is necessary.

“A number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across government.” [Source: The Guardian]