Cries of ‘cover-up’ over Sue Gray report, as unions call for redactions to protect civil servants

Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street parties was being edited on Wednesday night amid suspicions that the new police investigation will mean names and key details are left out of her findings.

Civil service unions are warning the Cabinet Office that government employees must not be “hung out to dry” by being named as party attendees.

However, Labour claimed on Wednesday that unless all evidence gathered in the “partygate” investigation by Ms Gray was made public, then “it will reek of another Downing Street cover-up”.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Ms Gray’s findings would be made public in full, providing an “assurance” was given that the information would not undercut the police probe.

It follows days of confusion over the timing and nature of the publication of the report, which could determine Boris Johnson’s future as well as that of many of his staff.

As the report remained in limbo, insiders said there were concerns about releasing the report before senior HR officials have been informed of any sackings that might result from its publication.

Garry Graham, the deputy general secretary of Prospect, a trade union that represents civil servants, delivered a warning over the report to The Telegraph.

Mr Graham said: “We don’t want civil servants hung out to dry with regards to this. If there are HR actions, then people need to be appropriately supported, including from their union.

“I hope that the Civil Service is not going to be collateral damage as a result of this. The Prime Minister is the head of the Civil Service. He should have been leading by example.”

Westminster had been bracing itself for the publication of the Gray report at the start of this week, but the sudden announcement on Tuesday of a police investigation into Downing Street parties appeared to catch the Cabinet Office by surprise.

A protester outside Downing Street on Wednesday. Tension was mounting on Wednesday night over what would, and would not, be revealed on Sue Gray’s report A protester outside Downing Street on Wednesday. Tension was mounting on Wednesday night over what would, and would not, be revealed on Sue Gray’s report Credit: AP Photo/Matt Dunham

Sources close to the investigation have said that Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, was fully prepared for the Gray report to be published later that day if Ms Gray chose to do so.

Ms Gray had made clear when she took over the investigation in December that she might have to pause her inquiry if the police launched a criminal investigation, leading to an assumption on the part of Downing Street that the Gray report would be delayed.

Sources at Scotland Yard insisted: “We have not said they cannot publish their report.”

But the truth is rather more nuanced: behind the scenes, the Met was keen to ensure nothing was published that would compromise the criminal investigation, and a Met source said: “It would seem prudent for some information to be withheld.”

The Telegraph understands that Susanna McGibbon, the permanent secretary at the Government Legal Department, is leading a small team of lawyers who are checking the report for issues that might cause difficulties for the police investigation.

Rupert McNeil and Susanna McGibbon Rupert McNeil and Susanna McGibbon

Meanwhile, Rupert McNeil, the Government’s Chief People Officer, is being kept in the loop about any possible disciplinary action, as well as issues around duty of care to staff.

“You can’t just publish a report like this without knowing what comes next,” said one source. “If it’s obvious that people are going to lose their jobs, or even be disciplined, you need to be ready for that from a legal point of view. 

“Do the terms of their employment justify any action that is being taken? If you’re going to sack someone what is the exact reason for that? Do they have to be paid in lieu of notice?”

Whitehall sources have also told The Telegraph that parts of the evidence gathered by Ms Gray will not be sent to the Prime Minister, partly to avoid causing difficulties for innocent parties who might have been mentioned by witnesses or who appear in photographs.

The Cabinet Office is understood to be reluctant to publish documents with redactions – black lines covering sensitive information – as that would be more likely to prompt accusations of a cover-up than if material that is not at the core of her findings is left out.

Lord Carter of Haslemere, the general counsel of 10 Downing Street, will also be a key figure once the report is published, as the Prime Minister will need to be given legal advice before he makes any decisions on whether anyone should be sacked, or indeed whether he should resign.

Decisions about what would be cut and what would be published were also understood to involve senior detectives and lawyers acting for the Met.

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Those discussions were still ongoing on Wednesday morning. And while it is understood there were few sticking points as far as the police were concerned, both sides are acutely aware of the dangers of being accused of bias if their respective inquiries come to different conclusions.

If Ms Gray decided no rules had been broken, that would make it more difficult for the Met to decide to issue fines. Although the Met is independent, it would risk claims of political bias.

Similarly, if Ms Gray decided there had been rule-breaking but the Met took no action, Dame Cressida would leave herself open to accusations that Mr Johnson and his staff had been given preferential treatment.

Neither Ms Gray nor the Met relish the prospect of effectively forcing out an elected leader, which both of them have the capacity to do. 

If the Met fines Mr Johnson for breaking lockdown, he will almost certainly have to resign. If Ms Gray finds that the Prime Minister lied to Parliament, or sends the Met evidence that he broke lockdown rules, he would also have to go. It is enough to give any policeman or civil servant pause for thought.

Has the Prime Minister run out of road?

Sue Gray The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said it was ‘our intention’ to publish what was sent to Number 10 by Sue Gray Credit: Justin Ng/Avalon

The upshot of the intense activity in the Cabinet Office since Tuesday morning is that a report which might once have been published in its entirety will now be kept partially secret, as the Prime Minister’s ever-changing position has reflected.

Downing Street initially said that the Gray report would be published “in full”, but by Wednesday that position had changed.

Asked at Prime Minister’s Questions if he would publish “the full report… not an edited copy”, Mr Johnson replied: “I will do exactly what I said.”

Downing Street later clarified that that would mean “publishing the findings as received”, rather than all of the evidence gathered by Ms Gray.

There was a further caveat in a statement on Wednesday by the Prime Minister’s official spokesman, who said it was “our intention” to publish what was sent to Number 10 by Ms Gray, rather than promising to do so.

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of Labour, said: “This report has to be published in full with all accompanying evidence or else it will reek of another Downing Street cover-up. They seem to lose phones, delete WhatsApps, and misplace meeting minutes very regularly.

“But we all know that no one in Britain needs the Sue Gray report or the police to know that Boris Johnson needs to go. He can’t kick this into the long grass anymore. Boris Johnson has run out of road.”

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