LONDON: British police said on Tuesday they would be recommending an initial 20 fixed penalty notices are issued over breaches of COVID-19 lockdown rules at gatherings in Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s offices and residence.
Police are investigating 12 gatherings, referred to ‘Partygate’ probe, held at Downing Street and the Cabinet Office after an internal inquiry found Johnson’s staff had enjoyed alcohol-fuelled parties, with the British leader attending a few of the events himself.
“We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of COVID-19 regulations,” the Metropolitan Police said in a statement, adding that the fines would be issued by the ACRO Criminal Records Office.
“We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments. However due to the significant amount of investigative material that remains to be assessed, further referrals may be made to ACRO if the evidential threshold is made.”
Fixed penalty notices are issued to people deemed to have broken COVID rules. The penalty for participating in a gathering of more than 15 people is an 800 pound ($1,048) fine.
The police said they would not confirm which events the fixed penalty notices referred to as it could lead to the identification of the individuals involved.
Revelations of the gatherings, many of which took place when people could not attend funerals or say farewell to loved ones dying in hospital due to strict COVID-19 lockdown rules, sparked widespread anger.
The police have said over 100 questionnaires had been sent out as part of the investigation to ask them to explain their involvement in the gatherings.
Johnson was among those who received such a questionnaire. Police said earlier this month they had begun to interview witnesses as part of their investigation.
The Partygate scandal had left Johnson’s tenure precarious before Russia launched a war in Ukraine more than a month ago that gave Britain’s politicians more urgent priorities.
Johnson’s grip on power was shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 while millions in Britain were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Johnson has denied any wrongdoing, but he is alleged to have been at several of the dozen events in his 10 Downing St. office and other government buildings that are being investigated by the police.
He has acknowledged attending a “bring your own booze’’ party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 during the first lockdown, but insisted he believed it would be a work event.