Who Is Sue Gray? What We Know About The Official Investigating Whitehall’s Lockdown-Breaking Parties

The name ‘Sue Gray’ has been used several times in recent days as pressure mounts on Boris Johnson’s government over a series of alleged Whitehall parties against the lockdown.

“All of this, as you know, is the subject of a proper investigation by Sue Gray,” the Prime Minister told a reporter by the pool on Monday when asked if he had attended the now famous rally. “bring your own alcohol” on May 20, 2020.

“It is important that we let Sue Gray do her investigation, we see what the findings are so that we really understand the facts,” Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis said on Tuesday when also asked about the events breaking the rules.

In short, whenever there is a question to dodge, just summon the words “Sue Gray”.

Gray, 64, is a long-time public servant who is variously described as an extremely influential ‘enforcement agent’, ‘assistant to God’ and powerful Whitehall broker.

In December, Gray was tasked with finding the truth behind the wave of apparent parties in Whitehall during coronavirus restrictions. Appointed to lead the investigation after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case left because a quiz took place in his department, Gray has led various SW1 investigations that have seen Cabinet ministers fall.

What is she doing?

Gray is the second permanent secretary of the Department for Leveling Up, Housing and Communities, and is also part of the panel that decides who will be the next chairman of media regulator Ofcom.

She was previously Director General of Decency and Ethics at the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018. In this role, she would oversee cabinet reshuffles, participate on the honor roll and even sign political briefs to ensure nothing of embarrassment about the government is revealed. .

In his memoirs of being a Liberal Democrat member of the coalition government, former Cabinet Minister David Laws recalled a conversation in Canteen No.10 with Oliver Letwin, David Cameron’s political leader, who suggested that Gray “Rule Great Britain”. Laws told Letwin:

“Unless she accepts, things just don’t happen. Cabinet shuffles, cabinet reorganizations, everything – it’s all owed to Sue Gray. Nothing is moving in Whitehall unless Sue says so. She also manages to censor our memories! Our poor and deceived voters believe that the Prime Minister holds the reins of power. Wrong!

“The truth is, our real boss, Sue Gray, sits at a small desk in the Cabinet Office. If only the Chinese and the Russians knew! They’ve probably bugged all the bad phones for years.

On a related note, she was previously described as ‘deputy God’ by then Labor MP Paul Flynn at a meeting of the parliament’s public administration committee.

In 2015, Chris Cook, policy editor for BBC Newsnight, described Gray as “the most powerful person you’ve never heard of” after a long battle for information from the Cabinet Office. OpenDemocracy reported on Tuesday how activists voiced concerns over Gray’s involvement in the party investigation given his “blocking” of freedom of information requests.

What is she looking for?

The “BYOB” party in Garden No.10 is just the latest in a series of allegations of rallies staged across the government as coronavirus restrictions were in place.

– May 15, 2020: Downing Street garden party

Johnson, his wife Carrie, former chief adviser Dominic Cummings and Johnson’s senior private secretary Martin Reynolds were all pictured, in a photo leaked to the Guardian, sitting around a table in Garden No.10, with wine and cheese in front of them.

About 15 other people were also in the photo, but the PM insisted it was a business meeting, saying: “These were meetings of people at work, talking about work. . “

– May 20, 2020: BYOB garden party

The latest revelation came in an email, leaked to ITV, from Reynolds to more than 100 Downing Street employees asking them to “bring your own booze” for a rally night.

Numerous reports suggest that the Prime Minister attended the event with his wife.

– November 13, 2020: A departure party for the principal assistant

According to reports at the time, Johnson gave a keynote address for Lee Cain, his outgoing director of communications and close ally of Mr Cummings.

– November 13, 2020: apartment evening at Johnsons

There are allegations that the then Prime Minister’s fiancee threw parties at their apartment, one of which took place on November 13, the night Cummings left No.10.

A spokesperson for Johnson called the claim “utterly absurd.”

– November 25, 2020: Drinks from the Treasury

A Treasury spokesperson told The Times that a number of staff had come to the office to work on the expenditure review.

They said: “We have been informed that a small number of these employees have impromptu drinks around their desks after the event.”

– November 27, 2020: A second staff leaving to do

The Mirror reported that the Prime Minister gave a farewell speech to an aide in late November while the lockdown in England was still in place.

Other reports said the departure was for Cleo Watson, a senior Downing Street aide and Cummings ally.

– December 10: Feast of the Ministry of Education

The DfE confirmed that a social event had taken place after The Mirror reported that former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson threw a party and gave a brief speech at an event at the headquarters of his department in Whitehall.

A spokesperson conceded that “it would have been better not to meet in this way at this time”.

– December 14: Evening with Tory London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey and his staff

Shaun Bailey apologized “wholeheartedly” for attending the meeting at the Conservative campaign headquarters organized by his campaign team staff.

“It was a serious error in judgment at a time when Londoners were making immense sacrifices to protect us all and I regret it with all my heart,” he tweeted.

He stepped down as chairman of the London Assembly Police and Crime Committee after The Mirror released a photo showing him at the rally.

– December 15: Downing Street quiz

The prime minister appeared on quiz candidates’ screens, but insisted he hadn’t broken any rules.

An image published by the Sunday Mirror showed the Prime Minister flanked by colleagues, one draped in tinsel and the other wearing a Santa hat, at No 10.

Downing Street admitted Mr Johnson “briefly” attended the quiz after the photographic evidence appeared, but insisted it was a virtual event.

– December 16: Festival of the Ministry of Transport

The Mirror reported that senior officials were “drinking and dancing” at the event, which was allegedly planned by staff in the office of Secretary of Transportation Grant Shapps.

A DfT spokesperson said: “Less than a dozen employees who worked in the office had a low-key and socially distant gathering in the large open-plan office after work on December 16, where food and drink have been consumed. We recognize that this was inappropriate and apologize for the error in judgment. “

– December 17: Cabinet Office “Christmas party!

A number of outlets reported that a rally took place at the Cabinet Office on December 17.

The Times reported that Cabinet Secretary Simon Case attended the party in Room 103 of the Cabinet Office, hosted by a private secretary from Case’s team, and included in digital calendars as a “Christmas party!” “.

The Cabinet Office confirmed that a quiz had taken place, but a spokesperson said: “The cabinet secretary had no part in the event, but walked through the team’s office to his own office. “

– December 18: Christmas party in Downing Street

The claim that sparked the rule violation allegations is that a party was thrown for Downing Street staff on December 18.

Officials and advisers are said to have given speeches, enjoyed a cheese platter, drank together and exchanged Secret Santa gifts, although the Prime Minister was said to not have attended.

Johnson spokeswoman Allegra Stratton has resigned after being caught on camera joking with colleagues during a mock press conference.

Gray’s previous investigations

Gray oversaw the Plebgate investigation in 2012 after former chief whip Andrew Mitchell was accused of calling a policeman a ‘plebe’ at the gates of Downing Street.

Mitchell resigned a month after the altercation. He also lost a high-profile lawsuit against News Group Newspapers, the publishers of The Sun, after a judge said he came to the “firm conclusion” that Mitchell used the word “politically toxic” when he did not. was not allowed to walk through the main doors of vehicles.

Gray also led the 2017 investigation which saw then Deputy Prime Minister Theresa May Damian Green resign after the investigation found the MP lied about pornography on his computer and found “plausible” evidence that he sexually harassed a young activist.

‘A career break’

Although little seems to be known about Gray beyond her formidable reputation in Westminster, she ran a pub in Northern Ireland in the 1980s. The Sunday Times reported in 2017:

″ (Gray) took an unusual ‘career break’ in the 1980s, running The Cove pub near Newry with her husband, Bill Conlon, a country and western singer.

“The pub, popular with both Protestants and Catholics, was less than 10 miles from the Irish border in an area so violent it was nicknamed ‘Bandit Country’. It has since closed its doors.

“She was a good landlady,” said Adrian Fegan, who drank at the pub when Gray owned it with her husband. “

The official government website notes: “Sue also took a career hiatus in the late 1980s when she bought and ran a pub in Newry, Northern Ireland.

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