Lawyers are questioning why the Met Police asked officials to make 'minimal reference' to parties under investigation
- The Met Police told officials to 'minimise' references to parties, raising eyebrows among lawyers.
- A former Crown Prosecutor said it was 'nonsense' as the report could not prejudice an investigation.
Lawyers have questioned how the publication of a Cabinet Office inquiry into Downing Street parties could prejudice a separate police investigation, after the Metropolitan Police requested that officials strip certain details out.
On Friday it emerged that the force had requested the much-anticipated Sue Gray report into allegations of numerous parties in Downing Street should only make "minimal reference" to the parties also being probed by police. The police said the instruction was designed to avoid "prejudicing" its own investigation.
While Gray's report will cover more events than the police force is looking into, the Met's intervention has raised questions over when – or indeed whether – it can now be released.
But lawyers questioned how the publication of a fact-finding civil service report could prejudice a police investigation.
Nazir Afzal, a former chief Crown Prosecutor for North West England, said the Metropolitan Police's reasoning was "nonsense."
"A purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot possibly prejudice a police investigation," he tweeted. "They just have to follow the evidence, of which the report will be a part."
Adam Wagner, a human rights lawyer who has closely followed the UK's coronavirus regulations, agreed.
"Don't forget that most if not all of the offences at issue here (the coronavirus regulations offences) are "summary only" offences, so no possibility of a jury trial," he tweeted. "So why suppress parts of this report which itself will only refer those issues?"
But criminal barrister Matthew Scott said the Metropolitan Police's move appeared to be based on concerns that witnesses could potentially be swayed by evidence given to the civil service inquiry.
"It's not about prejudicing a court," he tweeted. "The problem is that publication of what witnesses have told Sue Gray may contaminate the police evidence gathering."
He added: "Police should never want witnesses to be told what other witnesses have said, or certainly not in detail."
A prominent criminal barrister who operates an anonymous Twitter account called The Secret Barrister tweeted: "It is an unedifying look for the Met to refuse to investigate despite clear evidence of criminality, then to subcontract the function to a civil servant, and then to frantically try to stem the flow of information when they change their minds."
Opposition leaders have seized on the latest development to pile the pressure onto
Labour leader Keir Starmer said the report must be published "in full", with the police investigation concluded "as soon as possible."
He told Sky News: "Let's take a step back here: We've got a criminal investigation into the behaviour of the prime minister and what went on in Downing Street. There are bound to process issues along the way. But this is of course about one thing: The behaviour of the prime minister."
Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: "A stitch-up between the Met leadership and Number 10 will damage our
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon added: "This gets murkier by the minute. Sue Gray and the Met are in difficult positions but the sequence of events and the situation arrived at now creates the suspicion - however unfairly - that the process of inquiry is aiding Johnson at the expense of public accountability."
The prime minister's spokesperson on Friday insisted that Downing Street had not asked Sue Gray to clarify with the Metropolitan Police whether she could publish her report in full, the Guardian reported.
The spokesperson said: "No, you'll be aware that the terms of reference clearly set out that the Cabinet Office would keep in contact with the police and again it's an independent investigation. we haven't been privy to the details of that investigation or any of its content."
"So that would be a matter for the investigations team and the Met."
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