The Metropolitan Police will not investigate a Christmas party held at the Department for Education in December 2020.
But the Sue Gray investigation report published today does not include findings about the Sanctuary Buildings event, said to have been instigated by former education secretary Gavin Williamson, who wanted to “thank staff together for the work that they had done”.
The document, by senior civil servant Gray, is described only as an update on her investigation into alleged gatherings on government premises during Covid restrictions.
Gray stated that 12 of the 16 events in the investigation’s scope are now being investigated by the Metropolitan Police.
However the DfE gathering on December 10, 2020, was “not considered to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation”.
Although the Met has not requested that “any limitations” be placed on the description of events it is not investigating, Gray has “decided not to publish factual accounts in relation to those four dates”.
“I do not feel that I am able to do so without detriment to the overall balance of the findings.”
Last year, DfE permanent secretary Susan Acland-Hood told MPs that the party for “two dozen” staff at the department’s canteen had been instigated by Williamson, and that she had also attended.
She said Williamson said a “few words” at the event, attended by around “two dozen” staff “principally” from ministers’ private offices.
Drinks and snacks were “brought by those attending and no outside guests or supporting staff were invited or present”.
She confirmed that if any staff were found to have broken rules, they would face disciplinary action. This would include Acland-Hood herself, she said.
Behaviour ‘difficult to justify’
Overall, Gray’s report found “some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify” when government was asking citizens to accept “far-reaching restrictions”.
It states that “at least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time”.
“At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public.”
Some of the events “should not have been allowed to take place”, Gray said, while others “should not have been allowed to develop as they did”.
The report also found that the “excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time”.
Gray concluded that there was “significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across government”.
“This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded,” she added.
The Met is investigating a leaving do on December 17 for the Cabinet Office’s Covid-19 taskforce chief Kate Josephs.
She was previously director of national operations at the DfE and then director of funding at the Education and Skills Funding Agency until July 2020.
Josephs has admitted attending the gathering and is now reportedly on paid leave from her current job as chief executive of Sheffield City Council.