Sue Gray Blames "Failure Of Leadership" For Partygate Scandal As Full Report Is Published
6 min read
The full report by Sue Gray into a series of parties in Downing Street has been published with strong criticism of the "senior leadership" in Number 10.
Gray wrote that the gatherings she investigated were "not in line with Covid guidance at the time”.
“Even allowing for the extraordinary pressures officials and advisers were under, the factual findings of this report illustrate some attitudes and behaviours inconsistent with that guidance," the report concluded.
Specifically pointing the finger at Number 10 culture rather than wider government, the senior civil servant wrote: “It is my firm belief, however, that these events did not reflect the prevailing culture in government and the civil service at the time.”
“The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government,” Gray, the Second Permanent Secretary in the Cabinet Office, wrote of the more than a dozen parties she was tasked with looking into.
“Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen. It is also the case that some of the more junior civil servants believed that their involvement in some of these events was permitted given the attendance of senior leaders.
“The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture.”
In her report, which also includes a number of pictures from various gatherings inside Number 10 in 2020 and 2021, she said staff had told her they had “witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly”.
She added: “I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable.
“I am reassured to see that steps have since been taken to introduce more easily accessible means by which to raise concerns electronically, in person or online, including directly with the Permanent Secretary in Number 10.
“I hope that this will truly embed a culture that welcomes and creates opportunities for challenge and speaking up at all levels.”
The report contains a series of messages from staff within Number 10 to each other organising the events, including from Martin Reynolds - who was Principal Private Secretary to the Prime Minister during the period in question.
In one of those Whatsapp messages he admitted to a special adviser “we seem to have got away with” a drinks event in the Downing Street garden in May 2020.
He had sent an email to all those working in Number 10 saying “it would be nice to make the most of this lovely weather” and have some “socially distanced drinks” at 6pm, imploring them to “bring your own booze”.
The report shows a special adviser forwarded the email to an official involved with a Covid press conference taking place that evening, warning that “as speakers and cameras are leaving, not walking around waving bottles of wine etc."
Reynolds replied: “Will do my best!”
Another gathering, this one in June 2020, was to mark the departure of a Number 10 official - with Gray revealing it lasted until gone 3am with one attendee being sick and another two getting into an altercation.
It began with 25 people gathered in the Cabinet Room with speeches, but then many of those attendees moved through from Number 10 into 70 Whitehall using the link door between the two buildings to carry on the evening in the Cabinet Secretary’s Waiting Room.
Gray wrote: “Some brought pizza and prosecco and they were followed by others, over the next couple of hours.
“Helen MacNamara, Deputy Cabinet Secretary, attended for part of the evening and provided a karaoke machine which was set up in an adjoining office to the waiting room.”
She added: “The event lasted for a number of hours. There was excessive alcohol consumption by some individuals. One individual was sick. There was a minor altercation between two other individuals.
“The event broke up in stages with a few members of staff leaving from around 21.00 and the last member of staff, who stayed to tidy up, leaving at 03.13.”
At another event, a Christmas party on December 18, 2020 for press office staff in Number 10, a panic alarm button was accidentally triggered, Gray revealed, with custodians and a police officer attending.
She said “some members of staff drank excessively”, and the event was so “crowded and noisy” people working elsewhere in the Number 10 building heard a significant level of noise that they characterised as a “party”.
“A cleaner who attended the room the next morning noted that there had been red wine spilled on one wall and on a number of boxes of photocopier paper,” the report adds.
There were also two separate leaving events on 16 April, 2021, which merged into a single gathering in the Number 10 garden, with the final person leaving at gone 4am.
Gray said many of those involved drank to excess, and confirmed earlier press reports that those attending damaged a swing and slide set used by Johnson’s infant son Wilfred.
Around 9.30pm those left at the party were “encouraged by the custodian to use the rear exit of Number 10” as they tried to lock down the building, but “some individuals remained in the building and carried on drinking alcohol until the early hours”.
Gray had published an interim version of her report earlier this year, promising to hold off the full version until the Metropolitan Police had completed their criminal investigation into a dozen of the alleged parties.
Last week the Met's 'Operation Hillman' was concluded, with a total of 126 fines issued to 83 people, leaving Gray free to hand in her final report to Number 10. The Cabinet Office confirmed Downing Street had received the final copy at around 10am on Wednesday.
Gray was appointed to lead the Cabinet Office investigation into lockdown events in Downing Street and Whitehall after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case recused himself from the position after it emerged that he was himself implicated in some of the parties.
It was initially believed that Case could resign in the wake of the finished report, but according to the Telegraph, Downing Street sources have suggested that the head of the civil service had expressed his intention to continue in the role on Wednesday morning.
The former head of the civil service Lord Kerslake said it would be "bizarre" if Case ends up taking responsibility for partygate and Johnson does not.
"I think they are joined at the hip and I can't see how one takes responsibility and the other doesn't," he told Times Radio.
Lord Kerslake also told Sky News that Gray had been "put in an impossible position”, and tasked with “producing a report which could affect whether the Prime Minister, her boss, has a future”.
Senior Tory MP Charles Walker said he did not think the report will be a "seminal moment" for Johnson.
“I think the seminal moment was the conclusion of the police report with no further penalties issued beyond the one for the birthday cake,” he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.
Walker, vice-chair of the backbench 1922 committee of Conservatives, added: "My suspicion is – actually my strong inclination is – that the Prime Minister is through the worst of it."
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