Nathan Sparke | CEO Hacked Off
Evidence provided to the Privileges Committee on behalf of Boris Johnson has confirmed that The Times newspaper was briefed on the illegal gathering in June 2020, which resulted in Johnson and Rishi Sunak receiving a Fixed Penalty Notice and a fine from the Metropolitan Police (see paragraph 40).
The Times, which briefly referred to the gathering in an article the following day, did not raise concerns in their article about the possibility that such a gathering would have been in breach of the rules.
The fact that The Times knew it to be true that this gathering took place but did not interrogate its circumstances in relation to the laws in place raises further questions about the closeness between the Government and parts of the press. The finding that the Prime Minister had acted in breach of the law represented a major scandal and would be considered a huge scoop for any investigative media outlet genuinely committed to holding the powerful to account.
Yet it was not until January 2022, 18 months later, that ITV News reported that the gathering may have been a breach of the rules.
The reporting of ITV News and other investigative outlets ultimately led to the police investigations which resulted in Mr Johnson and Mr Sunak’s fines.
The Times reported the event the following day, as “a small gathering in the cabinet room” for the former PM’s Birthday.
The newspaper added, “Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, and a group of aides sang him Happy Birthday before they tucked into a Union Jack cake.”
At the time, the law stated that gatherings of two or more people were prohibited, unless individuals were in the same household, working (and their gathering was essential for their work), at a funeral, caring for someone, moving home, providing emergency assistance, or were legally required to be present.
The Times had otherwise reported heavily on the lockdown restrictions yet did not raise any questions or doubts about the legality of Johnson’s Birthday party in its coverage of the event.
The Times was among the newspapers which campaigned for the cancellation of Leveson Part Two in 2018, the public inquiry which would have investigated allegations of corrupt relationships between politicians and the press.
Fellow News UK title, The Sun, was previously accused of assisting in a cover-up of the rule-breaking parties in 10 Downing Street, when it was discovered that the newspaper’s Deputy Editor had been present at some of the parties – including one in his honour – in his previous employment as the Downing Street Director of Communications.