Boris Johnson holds press conference for the Sue Gray report
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With the publication of the Sue Gray report into Downing Street parties apparently drawing a line under questions about the Prime Minister’s future, the focus has turned to whether the Labour leader will be fined for his event last year in the North East. Durham Police initially cleared him of wrongdoing last year at the event on April 30 during an election campaign, but has since reopened the case. This week the force turned down a freedom of information request over whether the force’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner Joy Allen was consulted during the original investigation.
Conservative Bassetlaw MP Brendan Clarke-Smith said: “This raises new questions and I am sure the public would like to know whether Durham Police have liaised with Labour’s Police and Crime Commissioner over the Beergate investigation and of any involvement she may or may not have had.
“The public will expect this to be revealed once they have concluded their enquiries, as part of an open and transparent process.”
In its response the force refused to confirm whether it holds or does not hold communications on the original investigation to or from Ms Allen.
Explaining its decision, the force said: “As this is currently an active / open investigation, the public interest balance has fallen in favour of not confirming or denying that any information is held in relation to your request.
“It is also in the Public Interest that Durham Constabulary maintains its Law Enforcement capabilities.”
In a further response to an appeal, the force said that a fresh FOI application could be made when the current investigation was concluded.
The FOI request was made before Durham Police opened a new investigation into the event where Mr Starmer, his deputy Angela Rayner and Labour activists consumed more than £200 of curry washed down by beer.
Durham Police said the new inquiry followed “significant new evidence” of the event and it set up a serious crime room which expected to take six weeks to go through the case.
Tory MPs have suggested that if Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak were fined for eating cake on the Prime Minister’s birthday before a meeting then the same should apply to this event.
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In his response to the Partygate report in Parliament, Mr Starmer today said that the event he attended was nothing like the ones in Downing Street where there a number of parties and 126 police fines have been issued.
He said: “I have not broken any rules, and any attempt to compare a perfectly legal takeaway while working to this catalogue of criminality looks even more ridiculous today, but if the police decide otherwise, I will do the decent thing and step down.
“The public need to know that not all politicians are the same—that not all politicians put themselves above their country—and that honesty, integrity and accountability matter.”
Labour initially denied Ms Rayner was at the event and later admitted she was. Also Mr Starmer initially said there were six people present, changed that to 15 and later 20 people received questionnaires.
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