Downing Street staff being questioned by police about lockdown parties will be able to view evidence they gave to the Sue Gray inquiry before they complete police questionnaires in a move critics said risked the “impression of conspiracy or cover-up”.
Their access to the material will be limited to notes on their own interviews with Ms Gray’s probe into alleged lockdown-breaching parties in Downing Street, and no one else’s.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson was expected to have submitted his answers to police questions about the allegations on Friday – when the seven-day deadline would have expired.
The Metropolitan Police Service has sent a questionnaire to at least 50 people as it conducts its inquiry, titled Operation Hillman, which is examining whether Covid restrictions were broken in Downing Street and across Whitehall.
Ms Gray has made interview notes available to staff answering questionnaires as part of an ongoing “duty of care” to junior civil servants to help them avoid giving contradictory statements to the police, in understands.
The Government also rejects suggestions that the process, which Ms Gray acknowledged was not standard practice, would allow staff to hold back from the police any information the Cabinet Office official did not obtain in her interviews because they are legally obliged to give to officers whatever they request.
However, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Why are those under criminal investigation allowed to see parts of Sue Gray’s report before the public?
“Decisions like this do nothing to improve public confidence.
“Any impression of conspiracy or cover-up would be disastrous for public trust in both Government and the police.”
ITV News reported that staff were told they can view notes on their own interviews in a letter from Ms Gray.
The letter reportedly said: “I appreciate that this is a worrying time for those affected by this process, which I do not wish to compound.”
The broadcaster said Ms Gray went on to say that “in light of particular circumstances surrounding this set of events, I have, as an exceptional measure, decided that individuals may be provided with limited access to the notes”.
ITV said staff were told they can view the notes in a “time limited” session, in person, “with a member of the investigation team present”.
They will reportedly not be allowed to bring any legal representative with them, nor phones, tablets, computers or any other recording equipment.
The letter is also cited as saying individuals will not be permitted to “challenge, suggest changes or amendments to the notes or otherwise challenge their contents”.
It reportedly said: “The focus for individuals should be on completing the police questionnaire within the timeline given.
“Access to notes from previous interviews is not necessary to do this, nor is it standard practice in internal investigations such as this to share or agree such notes with interviewees.”