Key findings of Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street parties

Inquiry findings blame leadership for bad behaviour at the heart of UK government

An image released as part of the Sue Gray report showing the cabinet room in 10 Downing Street during British Prime Minister Boris Johnson's birthday. Officials not named in the report were blurred out. Reuters
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In Sue Gray's 37-page report into the transgressions at Downing Street during the lockdown period she set out a series of findings.

They include:

‘What took place at many of these gatherings and the way in which they developed was not in line with Covid guidance at the time’

The inquiry report highlights that the UK’s senior political leadership flouted Covid-19 rules that they themselves established.

Sue Gray said some officials were working under “extraordinary pressures” but noted that other public servants were working in more difficult circumstances at greater personal risk.

“The hardship under which citizens across the country worked, lived and sadly even died while observing the Government’s regulations and guidance rigorously are known only too well,” she wrote.

Ms Gray also criticises the way in which she learnt about some of the 16 gatherings she investigated. She started off with three and her inquiries led her to another 13. She said that it is possible there were more.

“It was also, unfortunately, the case that details of some events only became known to me and my team through reporting in the media. This is disappointing,” she said.

‘The events that I investigated were attended by leaders in government. Many of these events should not have been allowed to happen’

The Sue Gray report provides evidence to show that senior leaders within Downing Street were aware they faced criticism if the gatherings came to light – but went ahead with them anyway.

Lee Cain, the former 10 Downing Street director of communications, wrote that “a 200 odd person invitation for drinks in the garden of no 10 is somewhat of a comms [communications] risk in the current environment”.

He later claimed to have advised the event should cancelled.

The May 2020 event went ahead. Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, later told an adviser dealing with another matter that it was “better than them focusing on our drinks (which we seem to have got away with).”

They didn’t. The party was among the eight for which fines were issued.

‘The senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility for this culture’

The culture Sue Gray referenced included copious drinking and bad behaviour. Three of the 16 events are singled out for “excessive” alcohol consumption.

The inquiry uncovered evidence of the culture including a 10 Downing Street official sending a message on internal systems about “drunkenness” and advising that staff leave out of the back exit of Downing Street to avoid being photographed.

Further messages exchanged between senior figures showed how they were mindful of keeping staff away from the cameras of the Downing Street press pack and “not walking around waving bottles of wine etc”.

‘I was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff. This was unacceptable’

“I found that some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly,” said Ms Gray in her report.

She cited “multiple examples” in which cleaning staff – left with the job of clearing up after the parties – had been treated with a lack of respect.

After one party, a cleaner who arrived the following morning found wine spilt on one wall and on several boxes of photocopier paper.

The damage wasn’t limited to liquid spills. The report found a group damaged a children’s slide in the Downing Street gardens while “playing with it”. The damage was not noticed and reported until the following morning.

‘Many will be dismayed that behaviour of this kind took place on this scale at the heart of government. The public have a right to expect the very highest standards of behaviour in such places and clearly what happened fell well short of this’

Details about the breakdown of the “very highest standards of behaviour” are peppered throughout the report.

Such was the level of “excessive alcohol consumption” at some of the 16 events under scrutiny that “one individual was sick”, it said.

It went on to say there was a “minor altercation” between two other people before everyone finally went home by 3.13am. At another gathering, the last person to leave departed at 4.20am.

Ms Gray said that issue of disciplinary action was not part of her remit but that it was clear that junior staff should not take the rap for what went on.

“While there is no excuse for some of the behaviour set out here, it is important to acknowledge that those in the most junior positions attended gatherings at which their seniors were present, or indeed organised,” she said.

Updated: May 25, 2022, 3:06 PM