Met takes no action over Tory lockdown event attended by Shaun Bailey

Former London mayoral candidate reportedly among allies who could become peers in Boris Johnson’s resignation honours list

The Metropolitan police took no action over an apparent Christmas party at Conservative headquarters in London during lockdown in 2020 attended by Shaun Bailey, then the party’s candidate for London mayor, it has emerged.

In a statement, the force said that despite a much-published photograph showing Bailey amid a crowd of seeming revellers, some holding drinks and standing next to a buffet, there was not enough evidence to “disprove the version of events provided by attendees”.

The decision not to take action against Bailey and the two dozen or so party staffers and aides seen packed into a room at Matthew Parker Street in central London, next to a table laden with platters of food, clears the path for the former mayoral candidate to become a peer.

He is among a series of allies reportedly selected by Boris Johnson to be sent to the Lords in a resignation honours list. Had Bailey still faced a possible fine for breaching lockdown rules, the House of Lords appointment commission (Holac), which vets new peers, could have blocked the move.

But the Met police decision is likely to provoke fresh controversy about the way the force investigated alleged lockdown breaches by senior politicians and aides, most notably inside Downing Street.

When the photograph of the Tory HQ gathering emerged in December last year, prompting a police inquiry, Bailey, who lost to Sadiq Khan in the May 2021 mayoral election, stood down as chair of the London assembly’s police and crime committee.

The photo showed several people, including the property developer and Tory donor Nick Candy, raising glasses of wine with a buffet laid out on a table next to them. Among angry responses to the photo, the then transport secretary, Grant Shapps, called it “disgraceful”.

A Met spokesperson said the investigation had concluded: “The photo by itself is not sufficient evidence on which to assess that an offence had been committed; however, it was considered by detectives alongside all other relevant material.

“This included speaking to staff at the venue, and in line with the Met’s established approach to retrospective investigations of coronavirus regulations, issuing legal questionnaires to a number of people who had been identified from the photo.”

The spokesperson added: “The investigation reviewed all the material thoroughly and, after careful consideration, it was determined that there was insufficient evidence to disprove the version of events provided by attendees to a standard that would meet the threshold required.”

While Met officers did speak to staff, those investigated for alleged offences were only questioned via a written questionnaire, as happened with the inquiries into lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street.

Bailey could nonetheless still prove another controversial name on a list of new peers that has reportedly prompted concern from Holac, which vets nominees for propriety and suitability. Among other Johnson allies reportedly being considered are the former aides Ross Kempsell, 30, and Charlotte Owen, who is thought to be in her late 20s, who would become the youngest life peers.

Members of Holac, who are also peers, do not speak publicly about their role, but are reportedly concerned at the creation of peers with such limited experience, notably Owen, who was working as a political intern five years ago.

After a period as a parliamentary assistant to Johnson and two other Tory MPs, she spent 18 months as a relatively junior No 10 adviser, her official rank being the second-lowest out of four.

Kempsell, a former No 10 and Conservative party staffer who is friends with Johnson and his wife, Carrie, also has relatively little experience, having worked as a journalist before 2019.

Also named as among suggested new peers are Johnson’s former chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, his former deputy chief of staff Ben Gascoigne and a series of loyal Tory MPs: Nadine Dorries, Alok Sharma, Alister Jack and Nigel Adams.

The MPs are understood to have agreed to delay taking up the peerages to avoid potentially tricky byelections.


Peter Walker Political correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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