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The Metropolitan Police is probing “a number” of parties that took place in Downing Street and Whitehall, Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick has confirmed.

Speaking to the London Assembly, Dick said that Scotland Yard had unearthed enough evidence from the Cabinet Office to begin a formal investigation.

Scotland Yard had previously stated that it was not the force’s policy to retrospectively look into breaches of coronavirus guidance.

Dick said they would do so only if there was a “serious and flagrant type of breach” with sufficient evidence, or when those involved “knew or ought to have known that what they were doing was an offence”.

However, the Met has been unable to resist pressure following reports of as many as 19 illicit gatherings involving government officials during the pandemic.

She said: “As a result of the information provided by the Cabinet Office and my officers own assessment, I can confirm the Met is now investigating a number of events that took place at Downing St and Whitehall in the last two years in relation to breaches of Covid 19 regulations.”

The announcement means that fixed penalty notices could be handed out to those who were found to have breached the rules – including, potentially, the Prime Minister.

A senior Whitehall source has suggested that the investigation will delay the publication of civil servant Sue Gray’s report into lockdown-busting parties.