Confusion surrounds Sue Gray’s report into parties in Downing Street during lockdown after the Metropolitan Police called for it to be watered down – but later denied delaying the publication.
The Met said the eagerly-anticipated document should only make “minimal reference” to the gatherings that they are investigating in case it prejudiced their inquiries.
Scotland Yard’s initial statement put Gray in the position of having to decide whether to hand over a stripped down version of her report to Number 10 or delay it until after the police probe is concluded.
It was later thought, however, a redacted version of the top civil servant’s probe will be published next week.
In a bombshell statement, the Met said: “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.
“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”
But late on Friday, the Met published a second statement revealing it had received the material requested from the Cabinet Office to support the investigation adding that it had not delayed the publication of the Gray report.
Commander Catherine Roper, who leads the Met’s central specialist crime command, said the timing of the document’s release was a matter for the Cabinet Office.
“We have not delayed this report and the timing of its release is a matter for the Cabinet Office inquiry team,” she said.
The force previously argued the constraints on the Cabinet Office report into “partygate” were necessary to “avoid any prejudice to our investigation”.
The new statement, issued on Friday evening, contains no mention of the term “prejudice”.
The Met’s initial statement was condemned by Boris Johnson’s political opponents, who believe it takes the immediate political pressure off the prime minister.
Ian Blackford, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, accused the police of “kicking this into the long grass”.
Here we go again, kicking this into the long grass. Who does this benefit, certainly not Parliament in seeking to hold @BorisJohnson to account. He needs to answer for his misdemeanours. The details must be published in full rather than what this is, taking us all for fools. https://t.co/zVik85Deah
— Ian Blackford (@Ianblackford_MP) January 28, 2022
Former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron said the Met “has lost the consent of the people it serves”.
I’m suspect the Met decision re Sue Gray is down to incompetence rather than anything more sinister… but a police force whose reputation for effectiveness and impartiality has been shot, is a police force that has lost the consent of the people it serves.
— Tim Farron (@timfarron) January 28, 2022
It had been widely expected that the Gray report would be handed to Number 10 on Wednesday, with the prime minister due to make a statement to parliament within hours.
However, it has been hit by delays as government and police lawyers analysed its contents to decide what could be published.
The PM’s spokesman also dismissed suggestions that No. 10 will seek to block the publication of parts of the report.
He said: “It remains our intention to publish the report as it is received from the investigation.”
The Met’s Roper said the offences under investigation, where proven, would normally result in the issuing of a fixed penalty notice.
Story was updated to reflect the Met’s second statement.
This article originally appeared on HuffPost UK and has been updated.