The Met announced on Tuesday it was reopening its investigation into potential Covid lockdown breaches at the 2020 event, after video footage emerged showing Tory staffers – reportedly part of Mr Bailey’s mayoral campaign team – dancing and joking about “bending the rules”.
Questions about the Met’s probe into the event were asked at a meeting of the London Assembly’s police and crime committee. Mr Bailey, who despite the investigation is still a serving member of the committee, sat in silence throughout the discussion.
Sir Mark Rowley, the Met commissioner, was also asked about the consistency of the Met’s approach, when it came to examining other alleged lockdown breaches.
The commissioner said the force “will not be bullied by politics into investigating something which shouldn’t be investigated”, but that it will equally not “be intimidated” from examining allegations against powerful people, where there is sufficient evidence to do so.
Caroline Pidgeon, a Lib Dem Assembly Member (AM), asked Sir Mark about the event seen in the recently published video. According to a leaked invitation seen by the BBC, guests were told to “Jingle and Mingle” and to “Save the Date… For the Shaun Bailey for London Holiday Party”.
It was held on December 14, 2020 – while London was under Tier 2 restrictions, which banned indoor socialising. At least three people at the event are understood to now be part of Conservative mayoral hopeful Moz Hossein’s campaign team.
The event was previously investigated when a photo was leaked, showing Mr Bailey smiling next to more than 20 other people, with a buffet of food alongside them.
But the Met issued no fines, as it said the “photo by itself is not sufficient evidence on which to assess that an offence had been committed”.
Ms Pidgeon asked Sir Mark: “What action will you be taking if you find that some people have told perhaps a different version of events on the questionnaires [used for the investigation into the photo] than what they have seen on the video?
“Will it still be a fixed penalty notice, or will it potentially be something more serious?”
Sir Mark said there were several “ifs, buts and maybes” in Ms Pidgeon’s question and that he could not give a specific answer.
But he added: “In terms of a general point about the law, and people misleading or undermining investigations, it’s not uncommon.
“The response ranges from no particular response, through to charging minor offences like obstructing police, through to charging serious offences, such as perverting the course of justice.
“So there are a range of possibilities, from nothing through to something quite firm, if people undermine investigations, but that’s dependent on the case, and I’m not going to guess whether any of those apply in that case.”
Asked by Ms Pidgeon whether the Met’s original investigation into the event was thorough enough, Sir Mark said the force was “making proportionate use of resources”.
He added: “The investigation was appropriately thorough given the severity of breaches of Covid regulations, which Parliament decided were an offence, but not the most serious offence.”
Labour AM Unmesh Desai told Sir Mark he was “troubled” by whether the Met was consistently investigating other potential Covid lockdown breaches.
He said he was particularly unsure why a November 2020 photo of former prime minister Boris Johnson – seen raising a glass and making a toast with a crowd of people around him in Downing Street – had not resulted in sanctions.
Sir Mark said: “We’re not going to generally go back and investigate historic issues around the breaches, unless there’s evidence of a serious and flagrant breach.”
He added that while some people may be concerned by the ethics and politics of the photo, the Met has to follow the law alone.
Mr Desai’s party colleague, Len Duvall, pressed Sir Mark on the point, saying that there have been examples in the past where the police have failed to sufficiently investigate “the great and good”.
The commissioner replied: “We’re not going to be bullied by politics into investigating something that shouldn’t be investigated. Conversely, we’re not going to be intimidated by somebody important into not investigating them when we should.”
As well as the event involving Shaun Bailey, the Met also said on Tuesday evening that it will be investigating a birthday gathering held at Parliament on December 8, 2020, and attended by senior Tory MP Sir Benard Jenkin.