Ex-government ethics chief Helen MacNamara admits to lockdown party fine

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Helen MacNamaraImage source, UK Government
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Helen MacNamara was the director general for propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office between 2018 and 2020

The government's former head of ethics has apologised after receiving a fine from the police for attending a party in the Cabinet Office during lockdown.

Helen MacNamara was reported to have gone to a leaving do for a fellow civil servant on 18 June 2020.

It is one of 12 events being investigated by the police.

The former official said she had "accepted and paid the fixed penalty notice", adding: "I am sorry for the error of judgement I have shown."

Ms MacNamara - who is now the Premier League's director of policy - is the first person to be named as part of the Met Police's investigation into lockdown parties in Downing Street and across Whitehall during Covid lockdowns in 2020 and 2021.

Last week, the force confirmed it had sent out 20 fines so far, with sources telling the BBC some had been given to people who attended a leaving party in Downing Street on 16 April 2021 - the eve of Prince Philip's funeral.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson did not attend either leaving do and has so far not been issued with a fine.

He is believed to have attended at least three of the gatherings being investigated by the police.

Both the force and Downing Street have said they will not publish the names of all those who receive fines, but No 10 said they would make it public if the PM was given one.

'Wrong information'

The Met launched its investigation into the events that may have breached lockdown rules in January, after allegations about parties surfaced.

An interim report released by senior civil servant Sue Gray into the allegations said there had been "failures of leadership and judgment" by No 10 and the Cabinet Office over the gatherings.

In December, Mr Johnson told the Commons that "all guidance was followed completely in No 10" during periods of lockdown.

Later, when he was revealed to have attended a party in the garden of No 10, he insisted he believed it had been a "work event", and apologised for not sending people home.

The prime minister has been accused of misleading the House of Commons over his remarks - which would break the ministerial code - but No 10 has insisted that "at all times he has set out his understanding of events".

Brexit opportunities minister Jacob Rees-Mogg also defended his boss's comments on Monday, saying Mr Johnson had been given the "wrong information".

He told LBC: "If the prime minister is told information that is incorrect and passes that information on he has made no deliberate attempt to mislead anybody."

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: "If the PM wants to come to Parliament and tell us that he was repeatedly lied to by his own adviser then let him do that.

"The idea that he had no idea what was going on in his home and his office and only gave answers because he was lied to by his officials is a case he needs to make... I don't think he can."

Ms MacNamara served as director general for propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office between 2018 and 2020, before becoming deputy cabinet secretary until she left the civil service in 2021.

Timeline: Downing St gatherings

The government has faced intense pressure over gatherings held in and around Downing Street during Covid lockdowns. A police investigation into several of the events has now concluded, with more than 100 fines having been issued to attendees. Here is what we know about the gatherings and the restrictions in place at the time:

A photo from May 2020 showed the prime minister and his staff with bottles of wine and a cheeseboard in the Downing Street garden. When asked about it, Boris Johnson said "those people were at work talking about work".

Boris Johnson was pictured with his wife Carrie as well as Downing Street staff
Image caption Boris Johnson was pictured with his wife Carrie as well as Downing Street staff Image copyright by Guardian/Eyevine

The rules:

Legal restrictions at the time said you could not leave your house without a reasonable excuse and government guidance was that you could meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor setting while exercising.

This event was not investigated by the police.

About 100 people were invited by email to "socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening". Witnesses told the BBC the PM and his wife were among about 30 people who attended.

Boris Johnson apologised to MPs for attending the event, saying he spent 25 minutes thanking staff, before returning to his office.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

A gathering took place in the Cabinet Office to mark the departure of a No 10 private secretary.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

We know at least one fine has been issued after the government's former head of ethics admitted receiving one and apologised for attending the event.

On Boris Johnson’s birthday, up to 30 people gathered in the Cabinet Room at No 10 to present the prime minister with a birthday cake and sing Happy Birthday, according to a report by ITV News.

No 10 said staff had "gathered briefly" to "wish the prime minister a happy birthday", adding that he had been there "for less than 10 minutes".

The rules:

Restrictions at the time banned most indoor gatherings involving more than two people.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

We know at least three attendees have received fines from the police, with the PM, his wife Carrie Symonds and Chancellor Rishi Sunak all confirming they have paid fixed penalty notices.

Two gatherings are understood to have taken place in Downing Street on this date: one to mark the departure of a special adviser and one in the Downing Street flat.

According to a report in the Daily Telegraph, the gathering in the flat where Mr Johnson and his wife live was to celebrate the departure of Dominic Cummings, the PM's former senior adviser. A spokesman for Mrs Johnson denies the party took place.

Boris Johnson pictured at a party, according to ITV News
Image caption Boris Johnson pictured at a party, according to ITV News Image copyright by ITV News

The rules:

Eight days earlier Boris Johnson had announced a new lockdown in England. Indoor gatherings with other households were banned, unless they were for work purposes.

The police investigation determined that an event on this date did breach the rules in place at the time but they have not confirmed whether it was one or both of the events.

A leaving event was held for No 10 aide, Cleo Watson, where people were drinking, and Mr Johnson made a speech, according to sources.

This event was not investigated by the police.

The Department for Education has confirmed it had an office gathering to thank staff for their work during the pandemic. It says drinks and snacks were brought by those who attended and no outside guests or support staff were invited.

The rules:

Eight days earlier, London had been placed in restrictions which banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.

This event was not investigated by the police.

The Conservative Party has admitted that an "unauthorised gathering" took place at its HQ in Westminster. It was held by the team of the party's London-mayoral candidate, Shaun Bailey, who has since stepped down as chair of the London Assembly police and crime committee.

In December, police said they would be contacting two people who attended the party.

The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’
Image caption The gathering at the Conservative Party headquarters was described as ‘raucous’ Image copyright by Daily Mirror

This event was not included in Sue Gray's report.

Multiple sources have told the BBC there was a Christmas quiz for No 10 staff last year. A photo - published by the Sunday Mirror - shows Boris Johnson taking part and sitting between two colleagues in No 10. Mr Johnson has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher
Image caption Mr Johnson was pictured in the No 10 library under a portrait of Margaret Thatcher Image copyright by Sunday Mirror

The rules: At this time, the rules in London banned two or more people from different households from meeting indoors, unless "reasonably necessary" for work purposes.

This event was not investigated by the police.

The Department for Transport has apologised after confirming reports of a party in its offices, calling it "inappropriate" and an "error of judgment" by staff.

This event was not included in Sue Gray's report.

A leaving party was held at the Cabinet Office for the outgoing head of the civil service Covid taskforce - the team responsible for drawing up coronavirus restrictions.

Kate Josephs, now chief executive of Sheffield City Council, apologised for the event, saying she was "truly sorry that I did this and for the anger that people will feel as a result".

A second gathering was held in the Cabinet Office to hold an online Christmas quiz for the Cabinet Secretary’s private office.

A third gathering was held in No 10 Downing Street to mark the departure of a No 10 official

The police investigation determined that an event on this date did breach the rules in place at the time but they have not confirmed whether it was one or all of the events.

Downing Street originally denied a report by the Daily Mirror that a party took place in Downing Street on this date.

However, a video obtained by ITV News showed the prime minister's then-press secretary Allegra Stratton joking about reports of the event, saying: "This fictional party was a business meeting and it was not socially distanced."

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

A gathering was held in No 10 Downing Street to mark the departure of two private secretaries.

The police investigation determined that this event did breach the rules in place at the time.

Two parties were held by Downing Street staff at No 10, the night before Prince Philip's funeral.

One of the events was a leaving party for the PM's then director of communications James Slack, who has apologised for the event and acknowledged it "should not have happened at the time that it did".

Boris Johnson was not at either party.

The rules

The rules had been eased in England on 12 April, but working from home continued to be recommended and socialising indoors with people from other households was not allowed. Meeting others outdoors was limited to groups of six people or two households.

The police investigation determined that an event on this date did breach the rules in place at the time but they have not confirmed whether it was one or both of the events.

We know fines have been issued to some people who attended Mr Slack’s leaving party, but we do not know who they were issued to.