Labour asks top civil servant to probe claims No 10 staff were pressured to delete party evidence

Exclusive: Angela Rayner has written to the cabinet secretary Simon Case asking him to confirm that no records have been destroyed

Anna Isaac
Saturday 15 January 2022 17:05 GMT
The letter from Labour said there are legal and ethical concerns if allegations about pressure to ‘clean up’ devices are correct
The letter from Labour said there are legal and ethical concerns if allegations about pressure to ‘clean up’ devices are correct (AP)

Labour has called for “urgent” answers about “unprecedented” allegations that No 10 staff were told to delete evidence of illegal parties in Downing Street.

The party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has written to the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, asking him to confirm that no records relating to the Partygate investigation, including electronic messages, have been destroyed.

Her letter, seen by The Independent, also asks Mr Case to confirm whether junior officials were asked to remove evidence by senior officials or special advisers.

It follows a report in The Independent in which two sources claimed a senior member of staff had told them to “clean up” their phones by removing references to anything that could “look like a party” after reports began to emerge of gatherings taking place while Covid restrictions were in place in December last year.

The alleged verbal guidance, which a Downing Street spokesperson said they did “not recognise”, is at odds with a written request made to staff to keep any records pertinent to the internal investigation being conducted by senior official Sue Gray.

Ms Rayner said: “Aside from the illegality of messages being deleted, there is a real question of fairness and leadership. Senior figures with power over junior officials could be seen to be bullying them into taking action to protect their own skin.”

She added: “It is deeply worrying that staff were reportedly pressured to do something wrong in order to cover up decisions by those at the top.”

On Friday, The Times reported that Ms Gray’s investigation had been “blindsided” by reports of parties having been held at Downing Street on the day before Prince Philip’s funeral. Ms Gray is said to be concerned that Downing Street staff are withholding information about parties from the investigation.

Ms Rayner also asked Mr Case to ensure that disciplinary processes are applied fairly and appropriately to “all those involved”, including himself.

Mr Case, as head of the civil service, has the final say on any decision regarding disciplinary action involving officials. Unless other arrangements are made, he will determine what steps to take following Ms Gray’s report – unless ministers or political appointees are involved, in which case the decision will fall to the prime minister, Boris Johnson.

Labour’s intervention also comes after a warning from the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) in response to the report.

“Erasing, destroying or concealing information within scope of a freedom of information request, with the intention of preventing its disclosure, is a criminal offence under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act,” an ICO spokesperson said.

Ms Rayner has formally asked Mr Case to confirm whether the Cabinet Office and Downing Street have referred themselves to the ICO.

She added: “The British civil service is known around the world for upholding the highest standards, and, as you are of course aware, the civil service code is designed to ensure that officials can conduct their work without fear or favour.

“I am concerned that, in order to move on from this raft of scandals, junior staff may lose their jobs in order to protect politicians or their appointees.”

The intervention also follows reports of a plan to save the Johnson premiership, which includes officials losing their roles as part of a fightback.

Sources told The Independent that Boris Johnson and others in Downing Street had taken to using the informal name “Operation Save Big Dog” for the plan to save the PM.

A spokesperson for No 10 said they “absolutely do not recognise” the phrase.

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