Skwawkbox’s questions to Durham police go unanswered after sources close to matter provide new information
Keir Starmer and his supporters have used the decision of Durham Constabulary not to fine him over his ‘beergate’ gathering to claim that there was never any question that he had done anything illegal – and his allies have attacked reports on Skwawkbox and in other media that he had received a fine.
However, information provided by sources close to events in Durham indicates that the police investigators recommended fines for Starmer’s ‘dinner’, as his agenda for the day described it – but that fines were withdrawn after the force’s leadership was pressured.
Skwawkbox reported last week that Starmer had received a fine and that the Labour leader had twice failed to deny that one had been issued. And according to sources in Durham the force’s investigation concluded that the law had been broken and that fixed penalty notices should be handed out. However, senior figures then withdrew the fines.
Skwawkbox sent the following questions to Durham Constabulary’s press office:
- Who was the investigating officer?
- The investigation report recommended fines, according to my sources – who made the decision not to impose them?
- Why is the force insisting on an FOI request to release the investigation report, rather than release it on request for transparency?
- The Met handles all issues relating to ‘work’ of the opposition leader. Why did Durham retain this decision if it didn’t think it was a social event?
- Starmer’s own office’s agenda for the day included ‘dinner’ in Durham, not a working snack. Why was this disregarded?
- Why wasn’t the CPS brought in to decide when the Durham force accepted the event was a breach, before applying an exemption?
- Who made the decision not to involve the CPS?
- Were any face-to-face interviews conducted?
- Why were people asked to be witnesses?
In response, the force simply re-sent its original 8 July statement that it had decided not to fine Starmer and others. Skwawkbox pointed out that its questions all arose after the issuance of that statement and asked for a substantive response. No reply had been received by the time of publication some eight hours after the deadline, leaving questions about the process and who was involved in the decision-making unanswered.
During an earlier telephone call, the force responded to Skwawkbox’s request for a copy of the investigation report by saying that it would have to be done via a Freedom of Investigation Act request (FOIA) – confirming in the process that a report exists. Public bodies have obligations under the FOIA – but are not required to receive one in order to disclose information to journalists for the sake of transparency. FOIA requests can take many months to complete if the responding organisation disputes its obligation to disclose and the requester is forced to appeal to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
According to parliamentary figures spoken to by Skwawkbox, the Metropolitan Police handle any investigations relating to the leader of the opposition at work, requiring the matter to be handed to the Met as soon as Durham Constabulary began to consider categorising Starmer’s ‘dinner’ – as described in the agenda for the day that his office sent to attendees, contrary to later claims that the get-together was just grabbing food and drinks as part of a meeting – as a work event.
Some three weeks before the force published its decision, Durham’s Labour Police and Crime Commissioner gave Durham’s Chief Constable a contract extension worth some £550,000, despite criticism of the force’s performance.
Keir Starmer was asked on two separate occasions to comment on reports that he had received a fine and did not deny it.
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