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UPDATED: Met’s investigation into alleged breaches of Covid regulations, Op Hillman, concludes

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UPDATED: Met’s investigation into alleged breaches of Covid regulations, Op Hillman, concludes

The Met has today announced the investigation into alleged breaches of Covid regulations at Downing Street and Whitehall, under Operation Hillman, is complete.

In total, detectives have made 126 referrals for fixed penalty notices (FPNs) to the ACRO Criminal Records Office for breaches of Covid-19 regulations.

These referrals relate to events on the following eight dates:

  • 20 May 2020
  • 18 June 2020
  • 19 June 2020
  • 13 November 2020
  • 17 December 2020
  • 18 December 2020
  • 14 January 2021
  • 16 April 2021

Of the referrals, all resulted or will do so in a FPN being issued.  In total, this refers to 83 individuals. The breakdown of recipients is 53 FPNs were issued to 35 men and 73 FPNs to 48 women. A total of 28 people received between two and five referrals.

We will not be releasing or confirming the identity of anyone involved in this investigation or providing further details of our findings, in line with the approach we’ve taken throughout the pandemic.

Our position from early on in the pandemic was that we would not routinely investigate historic breaches of Covid regulations. This was for two reasons – first that we could not retrospectively engage and inform those involved that they were breaching the rules – an important step in our policing strategy around Covid - and second, that as these were summary-only offences, we did not judge it a proportionate use of officers’ time.

However, we did recognise that there might be some exceptions to this approach, and set out at the time the criteria that would need to be met for us to consider a retrospective investigation.

These were that:

  • There was evidence that those involved knew or ought to have known that what they were doing was an offence;
  • Where not investigating would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law and;
  • Where there was little ambiguity around the absence of any reasonable defence.

Based on the information provided to us by the Cabinet Office in January 2022 and following our own assessment, we judged these criteria had been met and so launched an investigation on 25 January 2022.

A team of twelve detectives worked through 345 documents, including emails, door logs, diary entries and witness statements, 510 photographs and CCTV images and 204 questionnaires as part of a careful and thorough enquiry.

Each line of enquiry looked at the date, the circumstances behind each event, and the actions of the individual, benchmarked against the legislation at that time, to establish whether their behaviour met the criminal threshold for an FPN referral to be made.

We 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’s important to remember that during the 11-month period under investigation, legislation changed multiple times, so not all events were subject to the same restrictions.

Acting Deputy Commissioner Helen Ball, of the Met said:

“There is no doubt that the pandemic impacted all of us in so many ways and strong feelings and opinions have been expressed on this particular issue.

“When Covid regulations were introduced, the Met was clear that whilst we would not routinely investigate breaches of regulations retrospectively, there may be occasions when it would be appropriate to do so.

“The information that we received with regard to the alleged breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall was sufficient to reach our criteria to begin such an investigation.

“Our investigation was thorough and impartial and was completed as quickly as we could, given the amount of information that needed to be reviewed and the importance of ensuring that we had strong evidence for each FPN referral.

“This investigation is now complete.”

Background:

There were no interviews under caution. The questionnaires we issued were a legal document and were the most efficient and proportionate way to progress enquiries. This is not the first time we have used this process.

Once the evidential material was gathered for an event, a separate assessment for each individual was undertaken.

In order to refer for an FPN, officers were required to have a reasonable belief that the individual had committed an offence under the regulations. These assessments considered each element of the offence. Where the alleged offence related to a breach of the restriction on gatherings, these elements included; how many people the gathering consisted of, whether the gathering was considered to satisfy an applicable exception prescribed by the Regulations and, if not, whether the individual had a reasonable excuse for participating in that gathering.

Six offences were identified as breached through this enquiry, a summary of the offences is provided below:

  • 20 May 2020 - Regulation 6 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 – Restriction on leaving, or being outside of, the place where you were living without reasonable excuse.
  • 18 and 19 June 2020 - Regulation 7 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 – Restriction on participating in an indoor gathering consisting of two or more people.
  • 13 November 2020 – Regulation 8 of the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) (No. 4) Regulations 2020 – Restriction on participating in an indoor gathering consisting of two or more people.
  • 17 and 18 December 2020 – Paragraph 1 of Schedule 3 to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 – Restriction on participating in an indoor gathering in the Tier 3 area consisting of two or more people.
  • 14 January 2021 - Paragraph 3 of Schedule 3A to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (All Tiers) (England) Regulations 2020 – Restriction on participating in an indoor gathering in the Tier 4 area consisting of two or more people.
  • 16 April 2021 – Paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021 - Restriction on participating in an outdoor gathering in the Step 2 area consisting of more than six people.

The core investigative team Operation Hillman comprised 12 full time dedicated officers, with other support and oversight as required.

The total cost of Operation Hillman was approx. £460,000.

Throughout the pandemic between 27.03.2020 and 18.07.2021 the Met referred 16,796 FPNs for breaches of the Covid regulations.

COVID Retrospective Enforcement Principles

1. For breaches of COVID legislation, the Met Police will not normally investigate retrospectively. Instead, our focus should be on preventing the current spread of COVID and using the 4 E approach.

Rationale: If we were to investigate retrospectively, this would set a precedent where we would have to investigate potentially thousands of complaints and social media referrals. Investigation requires evidence, CCTV trawls and interviews. The size of the team required to conduct this activity would detract from our public health focus of preventing the spread of COVID now. It would also frustrate the Met policing priority of tackling serious violence.

2. However for the most serious and flagrant breaches we will consider investigating retrospectively:

Three features of an offence that would make retrospective investigations more likely are as follows:

a. When the subject knew it was an offence, or ought to have known.
b. When, by not investigating, it would significantly undermine the legitimacy of the law.
c. When there is little ambiguity around the absence of any reasonable defence.

It is likely that Met would expect all these criteria to be met for a retrospective investigation to commence.

3. Each case should be considered on its merits but examples that may justify retrospective investigation could be:

a. Identified organisers of large gatherings that flagrantly breach COVID legislation
b. Knowing you have COVID but significantly breaching the legislation.

4. Process

a. Any decision to retrospectively investigate should be made by the COVID investigation team to allow for moderation
b. A rationale should be applied
c. In these exceptional circumstances, there is no requirement to follow the 4 E approach.

5. If a decision is made not to investigate retrospectively then attempts should be made to apply the 3 E approach retrospectively by contacting the subject.

6. These principles are guidelines only.

Subjects

Regions