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Scotland Yard has announced that it will start sending letters to Downing Street officials suspected of breaching lockdown rules after receiving a dossier of evidence from Sue Gray.
The Metropolitan Police said those alleged to have broken Covid-19 laws at government parties would be told to provide a “reasonable excuse” or be fined.
Those known to have attended events under investigation are expected to receive letters, raising the possibility Boris Johnson and his closest advisers will be contacted.
The announcement came as the Prime Minister is preparing to fly to Eastern Europe next week to address mounting fears of a Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mr Johnson will this week attempt to refocus on the day job – which will include a string of domestic policy announcements on Brexit and “levelling up”.
However, Ms Gray, the civil servant looking into the claims, is preparing to publish her report within days – despite being told by the Metropolitan Police to leave out scores of key details.
Scotland Yard is insisting that Ms Gray makes only “minimal reference” to the alleged lockdown-breaking parties which it is now investigating.
The Telegraph understands Ms Gray has decided to publish her report, with changes in line with Metropolitan Police demands, rather than wait until that probe is completed.
It means that her findings – which could still contain damning information – are expected to be published in the coming days.
The developments leave Mr Johnson in limbo, unsure what will be contained in Ms Gray’s report or when it will be released, as Tory MPs weigh up whether to oust him.
It came on a day of finger-pointing and confusion about who is to blame for the delay in Ms Gray’s report.
On Friday morning, the Metropolitan Police had been accused of a “disproportionate” approach by insisting Ms Gray only reveals “minimal” information about the “partygate” events it is now probing.
Legal experts and MPs had argued that there was no way any prosecutions launched from the probe could be prejudiced because they involved fines overseen by judges, not a jury.
Police ask for ‘minimal reference’ to relevant events
On Friday night, a statement issued in the name of Commander Catherine Roper, who is overseeing the investigation, doubled down on the position, arguing it was “in order to protect the integrity of the police investigation”.
But the statement also revealed that relevant “material” had been delivered from the Cabinet Office, under which Ms Gray is conducting her probe, to Scotland Yard on Friday.
One government source told The Telegraph the material could include hard evidence such as witness statements, photographs or text messages about the events being probed.
Part of the statement read: “In order to protect the integrity of the police investigation, as is appropriate in any case, and to be as fair as possible to those who are subject to it, the Met has asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report to the relevant events.
“This will only be necessary until these matters are concluded, and is to give detectives the most reliable picture of what happened at these events. We intend to complete our investigations promptly, fairly and proportionately.
“We have not delayed this report and the timing of its release is a matter for the Cabinet Office inquiry team.”
The statement also made clear the next steps for those accused of rule-breaking at the alleged events. The Telegraph understands eight gatherings are being investigated.
It read: “Individuals who are identified as having potentially breached these regulations will normally be contacted in writing, and invited to explain their actions including whether they feel they had a reasonable excuse.”
“Following this process, and where there is sufficient evidence that individuals have breached the regulations without reasonable excuse, officers will decide if enforcement action is appropriate.
“If the decision is to take enforcement action then a report will be sent to the ACRO Criminal Records Office which will issue the fixed penalty notice. Recipients can pay the fixed penalty and the matter will be considered closed.”
Timeline of ‘partygate’
The Metropolitan Police earlier made clear it was only investigating claims of Covid rule-breaking, moving to end speculation that more serious alleged crimes had been uncovered by Ms Gray.
There was widespread criticism of the Metropolitan Police’s attempt to limit what Ms Gray could release.
Ken Macdonald, former director of public prosecutions, said the move seems “disproportionate” in the face of “very powerful” public interest in the report’s swift publication
Sir Roger Gale, the veteran Tory MP and one of the Conservatives to call for Mr Johnson’s resignation, described it as a “farce” which could buy more time for the “lame duck” Prime Minister.
Ms Gray’s decision to push ahead with publication means the findings could be published this week, even if some of the most controversial revelations are held back because of the police probe.
The Prime Minister will both fly to Eastern Europe and hold a phone call with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the coming week in new efforts to “avoid bloodshed” in Ukraine.
Mr Johnson will urge Mr Putin to “step back” and “engage diplomatically”, as fears grow that Moscow is poised to mount an invasion of its neighbour.
British defence and security chiefs were tasked by Mr Johnson with examining fresh military options in Europe during a high-level intelligence briefing on the fast-developing this week.
Armed Forces chiefs set out proposals for new deployments of personnel on Nato’s eastern flank at a crunch meeting in the Ministry of Defence. Britain already has around 850 troops stationed in Estonia and a further 150 in Poland under the coalition’s banner.
Mr Johnson will this weekend consider the options, with proposals involving Army, Royal Navy and RAF units all put forward, it is understood.
On Monday the Foreign Secretary is expected to announce in Parliament tougher sanctions on Russian strategic and financial interests. On the same day the UK will join discussions at the UN Security Council in New York that aim to ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Moscow.
A Downing Street spokeswoman said on Friday night: “The Prime Minister is determined to accelerate diplomatic efforts and ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed in Europe.
“He will reiterate the need for Russia to step back and engage diplomatically when he speaks to President Putin this week.”
Mr Johnson is determined to pursue diplomatic efforts in tandem with any moves to bolster the UK’s military presence in eastern Europe.
This week he joined a call with President Biden, European leaders and Nato Secretary General Stoltenberg, in which they stressed the importance of maintaining international unity.