Police faced renewed pressure to investigate ‘Beergate’ yesterday after Keir Starmer admitted sharing a lockdown curry with up to 30 Labour officials at a time when buffets were banned.
A former chief constable yesterday said Durham police should ‘reconsider’ their initial dismissal of the case in the light of ‘new information’.
And a Tory MP urged the force to speak to Sir Keir’s Scotland Yard bodyguards about what they witnessed at the now notorious event on April 30 last year, when the Labour leader was filmed enjoying a late night beer with activists.
For the second day running, Sir Keir struggled to answer questions about the event at Durham Miners Hall, which took place at a time when almost all indoor socialising was banned.
The event has drawn comparisons with the so-called ‘birthday party’ in No 10 which resulted in Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak each being fined £50 – and prompted Sir Keir to call for them to resign.
Confronted on ITV’s Good Morning Britain with a copy of yesterday’s Mail, the Labour leader insisted there was ‘no breach of the rules’, despite lockdown laws at the time banning almost all indoor socialising.
However, he did not challenge reports that the Friday night gathering was attended by up to 30 people.
Keir Starmer during a visit to a pensioners drop-in session in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, May 4
Labour officials are said to have ordered £200 of takeaway curries for staff at the end of a long week on the campaign trail.
Sir Keir told ITV’s Richard Madeley: ‘This was brought in and at various points people went into the kitchen, got a plate, had some food to eat and got on with their work.’
At the time, lockdown laws allowed staff to meet indoors if doing so was ‘reasonably necessary for work’. However, official guidance on buffet-style serving was clear.
It stated: ‘There should not be any sharing of food and drink by staff who do not share a household. Minimise self-serving options for food and drink. As far as possible, food served and/or displayed should be individually wrapped to minimise contact and avoid spread of infection.’
Having claimed his curry – and beer – were consumed during a break from work, yesterday saw Sir Keir struggle to say what duties he carried out after he was filmed holding his bottle at 10.04pm.
The ‘online event for members’ cited as an example concluded at 9.18pm.
Sir Keir also stated that he had recorded ‘pieces to camera’ for social media, but just one Facebook clip appears to have been recorded that day – and it was shot during daylight hours.
For the second day running, Sir Keir struggled to answer questions about the event at Durham Miners Hall, which took place at a time when almost all indoor socialising was banned
Cabinet minister Nigel Adams accused the Labour leader of talking ‘bull***’ and ‘dodging’ key questions.
Richard Holden, Tory MP for North West Durham, told his local force that an event involving 30 people was ‘well above the number allowed to meet indoors under the regulations (at the time), and definitely not necessary for work purposes’.
In a letter seen by the Daily Mail, Mr Holden noted that bystanders were now coming forward who were not interviewed when the police initially dismissed the case last year after reviewing a 43-second video filmed by a passer-by.
The letter to Durham’s deputy chief constable Ciaron Irvine continued: ‘Given the serious nature of this new testimony, I hope you will be reaching out to the witnesses involved, as well as the Metropolitan Police officers present at the event, as part of your investigation into what took place.’
It was claimed last night that the Durham force had not yet requested the full, unedited footage of Sir Keir’s beer.
Police faced renewed pressure to investigate ‘Beergate’ yesterday after Keir Starmer admitted sharing a lockdown curry with up to 30 Labour officials at a time when buffets were banned
The person who filmed it told The Daily Telegraph they have had ‘no contact’ with police.
Tory MP Michael Fabricant said: ‘Keir Starmer has seized on the statement by police that they had fully investigated… and found that no rules had been breached. However, it now seems that Durham police have not done this at all.’
Sir Peter Fahy, former chief constable of Greater Manchester Police, said Durham Constabulary should reconsider a probe into the allegations.
‘I think they should probably just look at the new information and reconsider their situation,’ he told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme.
‘I think, once again, it highlights that a lot of the legislation around coronavirus was confused, so I think the police have been struggling.’
A Durham Constabulary spokesman said yesterday: ‘We have received a number of recent communications on this subject, which we are considering and will respond in due course.’
Lies and the questions that won’t go away
Claim: There was nowhere else to eat
What Sir Keir says: In Durham, all restaurants and pubs were closed so takeaways were really the only way you could eat.
The unanswered questions: Evidence suggests Sir Keir’s team had a number of dining options that evening. The Mail on Sunday established that the Radisson Blu hotel in Durham where Sir Keir was staying, served food on its terrace until 9pm.
And although England was emerging from lockdown at the time, restrictions had been eased to allow pubs, cafes and restaurants to serve food outside to groups of six or fewer.
Local newspaper coverage at the time suggests 13 restaurants and pubs were serving food within a 15-minute walk of Durham Miners Hall where he was working.
Claim: Event was ‘reasonably necessary for work’
What Sir Keir says: They were working and simply stopped to eat, there was no breach of the rules.
The unanswered questions: Indoor socialising was illegal at the time. There was an exemption for indoor meetings during the local election campaign if they could be shown to be ‘reasonably necessary for work’. But guidance remained strict, saying: ‘You should not meet with other campaigners indoors… Only rarely will two people be required indoors at the same location.’
So was it necessary for up to 30 people to share a curry late on a Friday night?
Separate guidance stated: ‘There should not be any sharing of food and drink by staff who do not share a household.’
Claim: The group continued to work after eating
What Sir Keir says: His story has shifted. In January he said the meal took place ‘between meetings’.
Yesterday he suggested he continued working during the meal. ‘At various points people went into the kitchen, got a plate, had some food to eat and got on with their work,’ he said.
The unanswered questions: Labour’s claim that work continued after the curry is central to its defence. Sir Keir said it was ‘absurd’ to suggest the meal was the end of his working day.
He said he had done an ‘online event for members’, but this finished at 9.18pm. He also stated he had recorded clips for social media.
But only one Facebook video appears to have been recorded that day – in daylight hours. Sir Keir also said he had been ‘clearing documents’, but Labour did not provide evidence of this.
Claim: Angela Rayner was not there
What Labour says: In January the party insisted she ‘wasn’t there’. But officials admitted last week she had been present after this newspaper found video footage of her at Durham Miners Hall that evening.
The unanswered questions: Labour has failed to explain how the ‘mistake’ could have occurred, when a simple question to Mrs Rayner could have clarified the issue, provided it was met with a straight answer. The party has also declined to say why it did not clarify the situation.
In the meantime, it was politically convenient for Labour, allowing Mrs Rayner to take the lead on Partygate, when Sir Keir was facing questions of his own.
A senior detective told The Times yesterday that Labour’s lack of straightforwardness had introduced ‘an element of doubt’ about its wider story which merited ‘a proper examination of the facts’.