Head of UK COVID-19 lockdown parties probe drops out over own event

Weekly cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London
New Cabinet Secretary Simon Case arrives for a Cabinet meeting at Downing Street in London, Britain, September 8, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson

LONDON, Dec 17 (Reuters) - Britain's top civil servant Simon Case has stepped down from leading an investigation into alleged parties last year in government offices in breach of COVID-19 lockdowns after an event was held in his own office.

"To ensure the ongoing investigation retains public confidence the Cabinet Secretary has recused himself for the remainder of the process," a spokesperson for Prime Minister Boris Johnson's office said.

"The work will be concluded by Sue Gray, second permanent secretary at the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

"She will ascertain the facts and present her findings to the Prime Minister."

A video emerged earlier this month showing Johnson's staff laughing and joking about a Downing Street party during a 2020 Christmas lockdown when such festivities were banned, resulting in condemnation from political opponents and the public.

Johnson, who has said he had been assured COVID rules were not broken and that there had been no party, asked Case to investigate.

The alleged parties have dismayed voters who were told by government to sacrifice their own Christmas events last year.

Johnson's Conservatives lost an election in a previous stronghold on Friday, stepping up pressure from his own lawmakers to reform his operation in Number 10.

The victorious centrist Liberal Democrat candidate in the North Shropshire seat, Helen Morgan, said voters had said loudly and clearly: "Boris Johnson, the party is over." read more

Case stepped down after the Guido Fawkes website said two events were held in his private office last December. The BBC said invitations were sent out for one of the events titled "Christmas Party!"

A government spokesperson quoted by the BBC said office staff had taken part in a virtual quiz, with a small number joining from their desks.

Case played no part in the event, but had walked through the team's office on the way to his own office, the spokesperson added, according to the BBC.

Reporting by Paul Sandle; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.