Downing Street officials have been accused of attempting to dilute Sue Gray’s report into the Partygate scandal, with demands to anonymise staff who broke coronavirus rules and to change how the so-called “Abba party” was reported.
Partial drafts of the findings were allegedly circulating in No 10 the day before the final report was handed over on Wednesday, the Sunday Times reported.
Sources told the newspaper that Gray was urged by three senior civil servants not to publish the names of some of those who had attended the 12 events under investigation.
“On Tuesday night, one last attempt was made to persuade her [Gray] to omit names from the report, but she made it plain to them the only way that was going to happen was if they issued her with an instruction,” a Whitehall source said.
The newspaper has claimed that key passages were altered at the behest of No 10, including the “Abba night” party alleged to have been held in the prime minister’s flat in November 2020. An earlier draft referring to music being played and stating at what time it finished was allegedly tweaked by Steve Barclay, Johnson’s chief of staff.
A government source told the Guardian that Barclay did not edit or influence the report in any way.
The Cabinet Office rejected claims that the report was edited due to pressure or that any events were not investigated because of requests made by senior figures.
They referred back to the wording of the report where Gray explained her rationale for halting her probe into what happened in the flat Johnson shares with his wife, Carrie. Gray said she halted her work having only collected “limited” information about the gathering when the Metropolitan police began their own investigation.
Gray’s 37-page report on the party culture in Downing Street ultimately included nine photographs and named some senior civil servants.
The findings detailed how each event unfolded including a leaving party on 18 June 2020 at which “one individual was sick” and “there was a minor altercation between two other individuals”.
The report included security logs revealing some staff carried on partying until 4am after the leaving do for the director of communications, James Slack, cleaners giving evidence of spilled wine on the walls on another occasion, and messages warning drunken staff to leave via the back entrance to avoid being seen by journalists.
Gray also highlighted a number of occasions in which members of No 10 staff raised questions about whether events should go ahead, or about drunkenness in Downing Street, and had their concerns dismissed.
Johnson issued an apology to MPs for the culture that developed in Downing Street during the pandemic on Wednesday, saying he took “full responsibility”.
However, the prime minister insisted he regarded it as “one of the essential duties of leadership” to attend leaving events and thank departing staff, because “it was appropriate to recognise and to thank them for the work that they had done”.
He also told a press briefing on Wednesday: “The first I saw the report and read it in its entirety – and, to the best of my knowledge, the first any of my team saw it – was when we got it shortly after 10am this morning.”