The police investigation into alleged lockdown-breaching parties at Downing Street could be extended to include a 13th event, after a picture emerged of Boris Johnson with an open bottle of bubbly, a colleague wearing tinsel and another in a Santa hat.
The photograph – obtained by The Daily Mirror – is understood to show a virtual Christmas quiz staged in No 10 in December 2020, which had previously been ruled out of the Metropolitan Police inquiry because of a lack of evidence that rules had been broken.
But within hours of its publication, Scotland Yard said that its assessment was under review, raising the possibility that it will join the 12 Downing Street and Whitehall events currently being probed.
It then revealed that detectives will begin contacting more than 50 people “believed to have taken part in the events” within days, to “get their accounts”.
“This document, which asks for an account and explanation of the recipient’s participation in an event, has formal legal status and must be answered truthfully,” the Met said.
Policing sources told The Times that Mr Johnson is expected to be among the dozens contacted over his involvement in the events.
The Met’s first statement raises doubts over Mr Johnson’s claim in the House of Commons that the picture of him at the quiz had “already been submitted” to civil servant Sue Gray’s inquiry into the Partygate scandal.
It will raise fears among the prime minister’s supporters over the danger of a further “drip drip” of damaging evidence emerging as the Met investigation proceeds.
Mr Johnson’s former top adviser Dominic Cummings suggested that further pictures exist of an alleged “Abba party” held in Mr Johnson’s 11 Downing Street flat on the evening of his resignation in November 2020.
And he argued that even a clean bill of health for the PM from the Met inquiry will not be enough to win over voters who have seen photos of apparent revelry in No 10 while they were confined to their homes.
“There’s waaaaay better pics than that floating around, incl[uding] in the flat,” tweeted the former Vote Leave supremo.
“Doesn’t matter if Cabinet Office stitch up Met like they did [the PM’s ethics adviser Lord] Geidt, the pics will come out and the public will think ‘Met lying’, not ‘Oh PM innocent after all’. Penny dropping with MPs…”
The new photograph shows the prime minister with three members of staff around a table with what appears to be an open bottle of champagne and crisps. One staff member has a garland of tinsel round his neck, while another is sporting a red and white Santa hat.
Downing Street previously said the quiz, held on 15 December 2020, took place virtually but with some members of staff taking part in the office.
It took place during a period when indoor social mixing was banned in London, which was under tier 2 Covid restrictions.
Official guidance also stated: “You must not have a work Christmas lunch or party, where that is a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted by the rules in your tier.”
Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, previously suggested no rules were broken because “no alcohol” was consumed.
“He’s on a virtual call, no alcohol, thanking his staff for 10 minutes before he goes back to work, is that really a terrible crime?” the minister asked in a TV interview last December.
And the prime minister himself said at the time: “I can tell you once again that I certainly broke no rules.”