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.
But Sir Keir said it was a ‘smear’ to suggest he breached the regulations while having ‘a takeaway and a beer while I was working late at night’.
Labour sources say that Sir Keir was drinking been in Durham late in the evening because the takeaway arrived an hour late, The Times reports.
A source familiar with the events rejected claims that 30 people had been present present, suggesting instead that there were roughly 15 — including Angela Rayner.
At the time it had been against the to gather indoors with people from outside households or support bubbles – though an exemption was in place for work purposes.
While Durham police looked into video footage in February and said it would not take action, two cabinet ministers want police to investigate again.
It is understood that the force will not make any announcement until after today’s elections because of purdah
Keir Starmer during a visit to a pensioners drop-in session in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, May 4
In a bruising interview with Susanna Reid on ITV’s Good Morning Britain, the Labour leader repeatedly insisted the group had been at work in Durham last year
Former chief constable of Manchester, Sir Peter Fahy, said Durham police should look again at the evidence – but stressed that the events seemed ‘starkly different’ to the issue of Downing Street parties.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
It comes after Mr Starmer griped that people keep asking him about ‘Beergate’ on Wednesday as a former police chief suggested the gathering should be looked at again.
The Labour leader complained there was too much focus on Tory ‘mudslinging’ rather than the cost-of-living crisis as he was grilled on claims he shared £200 worth of curry with up to 30 aides.
Meanwhile, Sir Peter Fahy, ex-chief constable of Greater Manchester, said Durham Police ‘should probably just look at the new information and reconsider their situation’.
Sir Keir could not hide his irritation after the incident was repeatedly raised on his final day of campaigning ahead of crunch local elections tomorrow.
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
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
Last night a picture emerged of what may have been his official car (above) in Durham that evening. This raises the prospect that his police protection team might be able to provide bombshell testimony, in the same way that officers are being asked for their recollections of ‘Partygate’ events in Downing Street
But Sir Keir looked distinctly uncomfortable as he failed to deny that there had been dozens of people present.
He stressed that the group had been ‘on the road’ for elections last year, and were still working even though it was around 10pm.
Speaking to reporters in Wakefield later, Sir Keir said: ‘I have not had contact from Durham Police and I think people are just about fed up with the mudslinging that’s going on.
‘We know there’s elections coming, we know what the Conservatives are up to. What we need to do, I think, is focus on the issue in hand, which is the cost of living.’
Asked what he was doing at 11pm in Durham on the night in question, and if he went back to work having eaten, he said: ‘We were working, we stopped, we ate. No breach of the rules. No party. And I think that’s enough for the mudslinging from the Tories on this.
‘Let’s focus on the issue in hand, which is the cost-of-living crisis, to which they have got absolutely no answer. We have got clear answers on that.’
Asked how many people were with him on the night, and if it was as many as 30, he said: ‘I had a team with me. We were working in the office. No breach of the rules, no party.
‘This relentless focus on mudslinging instead of the issue in hand by the Conservatives means that they’ve got no answer to the real question that so many people want answered, which is: ‘what are you going to do to help me with my bills?”
However, Labour is facing demands to explain more details about the episode.
The curry order was made after 9pm and included biryanis, bhunas and tikka masalas, according to The Sun.
Keir Starmer visited a pensioners’ drop-in session in Wakefield as the local election campaign draws to an end
Sir Keir is trying to keep the focus on Boris Johnson (pictured in Southampton ) ahead of the local elections
A local source told the newspaper: ‘There was a lot of food. It came to at least £200 and would have fed 25 or 30 people. It was a late-night delivery the last order of the night.
‘It must have been placed around 9pm maybe. Last orders are at 10pm and everything at the restaurant is freshly-cooked, so it would’ve taken time.
‘A man came to the door to collect it, but it wasn’t Keir.’
Durham Constabulary is under mounting pressure to reopen its investigation into the event at the offices of Durham MP Mary Foy in the run-up to last year’s local elections.
A spokesman for the force said today: ‘We have received a number of recent communications on this subject, which we are considering and will respond in due course.’
Sir Peter told BBC Radio 4’s World at One programme: ‘I think they should probably just look at the new information and reconsider their situation.
‘I think, once again, it highlights that a lot of the legislation around coronavirus was confused, so I think the police have been struggling with this.
‘But what came out from Parliament and what came out from the Home Secretary at the time was (that) really almost a deciding factor was repeated breach of the regulations, and I think that’s really what caused the pressure on the Metropolitan Police to have to investigate those alleged offences.
‘So, I think Durham do need to probably reconsider it, but on the other hand I also think this is really quite dangerous times when policing is sort of being drawn into party politics, and I think that’s starting to happen.’
Sir Keir confirmed that the force had not been in touch.
Labour’s cosy Durham cabal… and a silence that’s deafening: Wall of obfuscation has sprung up to protect Keir Starmer from criticism, writes ANDREW PIERCE
Miners, trade unionists, Leftie students and an endless parade of politicians waging class war: Durham’s heart beats proudly with the red blood of socialism.
The north-eastern city last returned a Tory to Westminster in 1918. And even today, the local MP works out of offices within Durham Miners Hall, a magnificent temple to Left-wing solidarity – and now an alleged crime scene.
Miners Hall is where Keir Starmer is alleged to have broken lockdown rules on April 30 last year – glugging beer and munching curry in a group of about 30 people in defiance of the law of the land at the time. As the evidence piles up against the Labour leader’s implausible claims about his activities that night – specifically whether it was a legal work meeting or an illegal social gathering – Durham’s deep-rooted Labour loyalties appear to be on full display.
From MPs to the crime-fighting forces within the city, a wall of silence and obfuscation has sprung up to protect the leader from criticism, investigation and any punishment he might deserve.
So who are the Labour figures in Durham allegedly protecting Starmer? ANDREW PIERCE examines the evidence…
Denial: Mary Foy MP, circled, at the event with Keir Starmer
THE ‘DRUNK’ MP
The most powerful figure in the local Labour Party is Mary Foy, MP for the City of Durham. The gathering took place in her constituency office at Miners Hall, after she had been campaigning with Starmer in the Hartlepool by-election that day. We know she was there.
Foy has stubbornly refused to answer questions about her presence at the curry night, instead referring reporters to Labour’s central press office. Not that they’re much help – the office initially denied Starmer’s deputy Angela Rayner had also been present, before admitting last week (in a supposedly ‘honest mistake’ after video evidence emerged) that, er, she had been there after all.
On the far-Left of her party, Foy was elected in 2019. She backed the ‘continuity Corbyn’ candidate Rebecca Long-Bailey in the 2020 leadership election.
The MP appears to be feeling the pressure over Beergate. Last week she launched into what witnesses called a ‘drunken tirade’ on the Commons terrace against Richard Holden, the Tory MP leading calls for the police to investigate Starmer further.
Three witnesses have said they saw Foy vent her fury at Holden, who is MP for nearby North West Durham, at about 10pm.
Foy then allegedly grabbed him by the arm with both hands and tried to drag him across the terrace before staff restrained her. Holden said he had received a written apology from Foy for what he called ‘her unacceptable, drunken behaviour’.
Endorsement: Sir Keir with police commissioner Joy Allen
As Durham’s elected police and crime commissioner – on a salary of over £71,000 – Joy Allen often makes public pronouncements on crimes committed on her patch, including littering, anti-social behaviour and road safety. But she has had surprisingly little to say about Starmer’s apparent law-breaking.
Allen’s official website claims her role is to ‘hold the [police] force to account’ – so why isn’t she holding the force accountable for their failure to investigate Starmer? She might be expected to take a keen interest in the claims against him – except she has been a member of the Labour Party for 27 years and has posted on her website a photo in which Starmer urges people to vote for her.
Asked what role Allen or her office might have played in the initial police decision to take no action against Starmer, her spokesman insisted: ‘None at all. We were just informed. It was an operational matter for the force.’
…AND HER CHUM
PCC Allen’s second-in-command is Nigel Bryson, who happens to be a long-standing friend of hers. They met, inevitably, through the Labour Party and she has attracted criticism for appointing him without advertising. Challenged over this failure to vet anyone else, she said: ‘I’ve got somebody who knows everything about me as a candidate… I could go through the process but it would just be possibly going through the motions.’ So that’s all right then.
Takeaway: Mary Foy with staff from The Capital restaurant
THE CURRY HOUSE
The Capital is one of Durham’s finest Indian restaurants and this week it emerged its delivery driver had dropped off a ‘£200′ feast for the gathering, including biryanis, tikka masalas, rice and naan breads. The driver initially told the Daily Mail there were ’30 or so people’ inside – but bizarrely later insisted he had no recollection of making the delivery.
Yet the curry house has been known to have friendly relations with Durham’s Labour machine.
In May 2020, during the first lockdown, local MP Foy hailed it for supplying meals to NHS workers and posed for photographs with head chef Syed Islam.
Bordering Foy’s constituency is North Durham, with MP Kevan Jones. He has also remained silent about the night in question – and this isn’t surprising.
A leading figure in the local Labour community, Jones himself has broken lockdown laws – not once, but twice. The first breach came on May 7, 2020, when he took part in a group photo shoot in his constituency, promoting artwork in praise of the NHS. A noble cause – but the rules about socialising were clear. Jones committed another breach three days later.
A video shows him attending an indoor party for 100-year-old veteran Frederick Herron, allegedly attended by about 40 people. Who would begrudge a hero centenarian a fitting celebration? Nobody – except Starmer and Labour have consistently claimed that the law should have been upheld.
Asked yesterday about his lockdown breaches, Jones said he would ‘rather not comment’.
Durham Police has drawn stern criticism for failing to investigate Starmer thoroughly over his seemingly flagrant lockdown-breaking. Little wonder – officers from the constabulary were also pictured at Mr Herron’s party.
In a time before vaccines, lockdown rules were to protect elderly individuals such as Mr Herron.
But that didn’t stop Durham police from attending – and ironically under the circumstances – to ensure that the law was followed. On June 6, 2020, a complaint was made to Durham police’s standards department about the officers’ failure to challenge the organisers – who included a Labour county councillor. Four days later, the department decided – surprise, surprise – to take no action.
Of course, the police must remain politically neutral – but the force’s refusal to investigate Starmer looks iniquitous when London’s Metropolitan police pursued Boris Johnson, Rishi Sunak and other Tories with a wildly expensive investigation, slapping fines on more than 50 people. As the Ancient Romans once wondered, who guards the guards themselves?
Additional reporting: Richard Marsden