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British police issue first 20 fines in "Partygate" probe

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson attends a COVID-19 press conference in the Downing Street media briefing room in London, Britain, Dec. 15, 2021.  (Simon Dawson/No. 10 Downing Street/Handout via Xinhua)

Parties held at Downing Street in 2020 and 2021 have enraged the British public who were asked to follow coronavirus restrictions for many months over the past two years to curb the spread of COVID-19. Johnson's premiership has been precarious following the revelation of these illicit gatherings, with calls from opposition parties and even members of his own Conservative Party for him to resign.

LONDON, March 29 (Xinhua) -- British police said on Tuesday that they would issue 20 fixed penalty notices (FPN) over breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules at gatherings in Prime Minister Boris Johnson's offices and residence at Downing Street.

"We will today initially begin to refer 20 fixed penalty notices to be issued for breaches of COVID-19 regulations. The ACRO Criminal Records Office will then be responsible for issuing the FPNs to the individual following the referrals from the MPS," the Metropolitan Police Service (Met) said in a statement.

The Met didn't disclose the names of the individuals being fined and added that they would not confirm the number of referrals from each individual event subject to their investigation as "providing a breakdown at this point may lead to identification of the individuals."

Parties held at Downing Street in 2020 and 2021 have enraged the British public who were asked to follow coronavirus restrictions for many months over the past two years to curb the spread of COVID-19. Johnson's premiership has been precarious following the revelation of these illicit gatherings, with calls from opposition parties and even members of his own Conservative Party for him to resign.

People wearing masks walk on a street in London, Britain, March 27, 2022. (Xinhua/Li Ying)

The Met launched an investigation at the end of January into 12 alleged events that include a boozy garden party on May 20, 2020, during the country's first COVID-19 lockdown, which Johnson said he mistook for a work event, as well as a birthday party given to him on June 19, 2020.

Senior civil servant Sue Gray, who led a separate Whitehall probe into the allegations, said in a report released on Jan. 31 that there were "failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No. 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times."

The Met's statement on the first tranche of fines has once again prompted leaders of opposition parties to renew calls for Johnson's resignation.

"After over two months of police time, 12 parties investigated and over 100 people questioned under caution, Boris Johnson's Downing Street has been found guilty of breaking the law," said Angela Rayner, deputy leader of the main opposition Labour Party, in a statement.

"The culture is set from the very top. The buck stops with the prime minister, who spent months lying to the British public, which is why he has got to go," she said.

 A passenger walks past a public health notice in Heathrow Airport in London, Britain, March 18, 2022.  (Xinhua/Li Ying)

"We all know who is responsible. The prime minister must resign, or Conservative MPs must sack him," Liberal Democrats leader Ed Davey said in a statement.  ■