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Sue Gray: The cat-loving former pub landlady behind the No. 10 parties investigation

Sue Gray has gone from an influential but little-known government behavior arbiter to a household name in five months.

She took over the public service inquiry into allegations of breaching coronavirus rules at No 10 in December, and Downing Street braces for the long-awaited report from the cabinet official.

Before the Metropolitan Police completed their own investigation into so-called Partygate claims, which saw Boris Johnson fined for breaking Covid laws, Ms Gray held the Prime Minister’s fate in her hands.

Boris Johnson awaits Sue Gray’s report on lockdown parties in No10 (Matt Dunham/PA)

(PA wire)

Scotland Yard announced last week that it had imposed 126 fines on 83 people over eight dates from May 2020 to April 2021 as part of its Operation Hillman inquiry into lockdown violations at Downing Street and Whitehall.

This means that Ms Gray’s report could draw less attention than first expected, but could still make uncomfortable reading for the government and prompt some Conservative MPs to hand the PM letters of no-confidence.

Its interim report, released in January after police said they would launch their own investigation, highlighted “faults in leadership and judgment” at the top of the government, along with criticism of a drinking culture in No. 10.

Since the Met closed its investigation last week, an increasingly acrimonious briefing war has erupted in the media between No 10 and Ms Gray’s team, with an unnamed source telling the Times they were “enjoying the limelight a little too much.” ” have.

Allies of Ms Gray have rejected the proposal.

While she is reportedly avoiding the media spotlight, some politicians have gone so far as to claim the former landlady is the UK’s “true leader”.

In her previous role as Director-General for Decency and Ethics at the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018, she is said to have overseen cabinet reshuffles, served as a guiding hand in compiling rolls of honor and even signed political memoirs before they were published.



She knows everything that anyone has ever done wrong

Polly Mackenzie, former Cabinet Secretary

The diplomatic skills required for such a sensitive role were honed in a place far from Whitehall when Ms Gray and her country and western singer husband Bill Conlon bought a pub in Newry, Northern Ireland, at the height of the Troubles and operated in the late 1980s.

Ms Gray, in her 60s, was thrust into the spotlight last year after she was chosen to lead the inquiry into possible wrongdoing at Downing Street after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case – her boss – resigned following allegations by his own office in December 2020 a held Christmas event.

Reportedly dubbed “God’s representative” by some in the civil service, Ms Gray, who is said to be a cat lover, is no stranger to a standard inquiry, having conducted two previous inquiries into the behavior of Cabinet ministers.

Polly Mackenzie, who served as political director in the Cabinet Office under former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, said Ms Gray knew what it felt like to retain the power to end careers.

“She knows everything that anyone has ever done wrong,” the chief executive of think-tank Demos told BBC Radio 4 for a profile of the official.

“That means when it comes to decisions that could make or break a political career, it can be incredibly powerful.”

Ms Gray’s past reviews of the behavior of senior cabinet ministers have resulted in high-profile sackings and resignations.

Former Prime Minister Theresa May hired her to investigate her close ally Damian Green over allegations he lied about the presence of pornographic images on his Commons computer, and she also led the so-called “Plebgate” inquiry into claims that at the time – Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell insulted Downing Street police officers.

Damian Green was investigated by Sue Gray when he was de facto Deputy Prime Minister (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

(PA Archive)

David Laws, who was a minister in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, said David Cameron’s former policy chief Oliver Letwin once told him that “things just don’t happen” in Whitehall unless Ms Gray agreed.

Some critics have suggested that it was influential in blocking freedom of information requests. Former BBC Newsnight journalist Chris Cook reported in 2015 that she was “notorious for her determination not to leave a documentary trail” and had supported departments “fighting disclosures”.

According to her government biography, Ms Gray began working for the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s after working behind the bar in Northern Ireland during a “career break”.

After her time as Head of Ethics at the Cabinet Office, she was Permanent Secretary at the Treasury in Northern Ireland from 2018 to 2021.

In its profile of Ms Gray, Radio 4 said she had told senior officials at the Belfast office that the Covid restrictions in place at the time of her departure meant leaving was not possible.

As of May 2021, she has returned to the Cabinet Office as second permanent secretary with responsibility for the union, in a role which also includes responsibilities in Michael Gove’s Leveling Up, Housing and Communities department.

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/metropolitan-police-damian-green-cabinet-office-sue-gray-simon-case-b2086681.html Sue Gray: The cat-loving former pub landlady behind the No. 10 parties investigation

Bobby Allyn

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