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UK police to issue first 20 fines over lockdown gatherings in Downing Street

UK police to issue first 20 fines over lockdown gatherings in Downing Street

An anti-Conservative Party protester holds a placard with an image of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson including the words "Now Partygate" backdropped by the Houses of Parliament, in London, Dec 8, 2021. (File Photo: AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

LONDON: British police said on Tuesday (Mar 29) they would recommend that an initial 20 fines are issued over breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules at gatherings in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's offices and residence.

Police are investigating 12 gatherings held at Downing Street and the Cabinet Office after an internal inquiry found Johnson's staff had enjoyed alcohol-fuelled parties, with the British leader attending a few of the events himself.

"We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of COVID-19 regulations," the Metropolitan Police said in a statement, adding that the fines would be issued by the ACRO Criminal Records Office.

Fixed penalty notices are issued to people deemed to have broken COVID-19 rules. The penalty for participating in a gathering of more than 15 people is an £800 (US$1,048) fine.

The police said they would not confirm which events the fixed penalty notices referred to as it could lead to the identification of the individuals involved.

Dozens of politicians and officials have been investigated over allegations that the government flouted the rules that it imposed on the country during the pandemic.

London’s Metropolitan Police sent questionnaires to more than 100 people, including the prime minister, and interviewed witnesses as part of the investigation.

The “partygate” scandal had left Johnson’s tenure precarious before Russia launched a war in Ukraine more than a month ago that gave Britain’s politicians more urgent priorities.

Johnson’s leadership grip on power was shaken by public anger over revelations that his staff held “bring your own booze” office parties, birthday celebrations and “wine time Fridays” in 2020 and 2021 while millions in Britain were barred from meeting with friends and family because of his government’s COVID-19 restrictions.

Johnson has denied any wrongdoing, but he is alleged to have been at several of the dozen events in his 10 Downing Street office and other government buildings that are being investigated by the police.

The prime minister has already apologised in parliament for the series of gatherings in 2020 and 2021 identified in an official inquiry which prompted the police probe.

"We are making every effort to progress this investigation at speed and have completed a number of assessments," the Met said in its statement.

"However due to the significant amount of investigative material that remains to be assessed, further referrals may be made ... if the evidential threshold is made."

Opponents and some members of the governing Conservative Party said Johnson should resign if he is issued a fine for breaking the rules.

Johnson's spokesman said the prime minister has not been issued with a fine for COVID-19 regulation breaches at this time.

Asked whether Johnson had received a fine, or been told he would be fined, the spokesman told reporters: "No. We've said we will update if that were to occur but our position has not changed."

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Source: Agencies/fh

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