Prime Minister Boris Johnson is locked in a battle for political survival but he and his Downing Street staff appear to have benefitted from a special kind of police investigation, feeding the narrative that it is ‘one rule for them’ and another for everyone else.
Lockdown-breaking was rigorously enforced by the police, with Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) handed out for relatively minor infractions – teenagers standing on a street corner together, a pensioner meeting others for company at his allotment.
The public faced instant justice and snap decisions from police officers about whether the rules had been broken, in sharp contrast to Downing Street where suspects faced an internal investigation, a written police questionnaire, and weeks of thought over whether lockdown laws had been broken.
Many are now puzzled and outraged that Prime Minister Boris Johnson has emerged from Partygate with just one £50 FPN and not been penalised for raising a glass at a November 2020 leaving party during lockdown.
The answer to this mystery may lie in last Thursday’s Metropolitan Police statement, that it “took great care to ensure that for each referral we had the necessary evidence to prosecute the FPN at court, were it not paid.”
It appears the Met did not want to be embarrassed if any of the Partygate fines ended up being fought over at court. Sensible, but completely at odds with the way members of the public have been treated.
Police officers came across suspected illegal gatherings, spotted alcohol on the table, and told everyone present they would be getting a Covid fine. No one received a questionnaire or even the chance, if needed, to sober up before answering police questions. FPN recipients had a stark choice – pay the penalty or challenge in court, risking a vastly inflated fine and a criminal conviction.
When the Met - after preliminary consultation on the law with the CPS - agonised over Partygate fines, a qualified prosecution lawyer would only look at allegations against members of the public if the case was pushed to a full court hearing.
There was no formal appeals process in the Covid laws, raising fears that many people may have paid a wrongly-issued FPN. For the public, the system was harsh and unyielding.
The anger Boris Johnson faces over Downing Street’s law-breaking is only exacerbated by the suspicion he has been treated to a different kind of justice than everyone else.