Beergate: Durham police’s ‘disproportionate’ response put three-quarters of major crime squad on Keir Starmer

The investigation to decide whether Keir Starmer’s Indian takeaway was a work or social meal was an “immense waste” of resources, with up to three-quarters of the major crime team put on the case.

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Police showed a “completely disproportionate” response by assigning nine major crime detectives to investigate Sir Keir Starmer for possible Covid regulation breaches, an ex-County Durham MP has said.

NationalWorld can today reveal that up to three-quarters of the police officers employed in Durham Constabulary’s major investigations unit were tasked with deciding whether the Labour leader had broken coronavirus rules by eating a curry and drinking a beer with his staff in April last year.

Helen Goodman, who was the Labour Member of Parliament for Bishop Auckland between 2005 and 2019, said she had been “absolutely astonished” to learn from a NationalWorld investigation that Durham Constabulary had spent an estimated £101,000 on the so-called ‘Beergate’ inquiry.

A County Durham MP says the Keir Starmer ‘Beergate’ probe was an “immense waste” of police resources, while a former MP says it was “completely disproportionate”.  (Image: NationalWorld/Mark Hall)A County Durham MP says the Keir Starmer ‘Beergate’ probe was an “immense waste” of police resources, while a former MP says it was “completely disproportionate”.  (Image: NationalWorld/Mark Hall)
A County Durham MP says the Keir Starmer ‘Beergate’ probe was an “immense waste” of police resources, while a former MP says it was “completely disproportionate”. (Image: NationalWorld/Mark Hall)

Grahame Morris, Labour MP for Easington, meanwhile accused a local Conservative MP of “politicising” the police force by pressuring them to reopen their investigation – and said the party would have to answer to voters over the “excessive cost and immense waste” of resources.

Nine detectives and two police staff, all from the Durham force’s major crime team, spent 3,203 hours on the case – the equivalent of 80 weeks, based on a 40 working hour week

Figures published by the Home Office show Durham Constabulary employed only 12 full time equivalent officers in a ‘major investigations unit’ as of March 2022. The force has confirmed that the nine major crime team officers that worked on the ‘Beergate’ case fall under this unit.

It would mean that around three-quarters of the unit’s manpower was dedicated to it – although if there are any part-time detectives in the unit then the headcount would be higher than 12, and the proportion lower.

Sir Keir was investigated by officers after he was photographed enjoying a beer and Indian takeaway with his team in the constituency office of Durham MP Mary Foy on 30 April 2021. The Labour Party said he had stopped for a meal following a day of campaigning in the Hartlepool by-election, and that work had continued afterwards – meaning no rules were broken.

Durham Constabulary reopened the case in May 2022 after concluding earlier in the year there was nothing to answer, stating “significant” new evidence had come to light. They cleared Sir Keir of any wrongdoing in July 2022. Others present at the event, including deputy leader Angela Rayner, were also cleared.

Breaking Covid lockdown rules was a summary offence – the most minor type of crime in English and Welsh law. But a freedom of information (FOI) request by NationalWorld showed the only officers assigned to work on the ‘Beergate’ case were from Durham Constabulary’s major crime team, which would normally deal with the most serious offences such as murder, kidnap or rape.

Former MP Helen Goodman told NationalWorld that while she did not question the decision to reopen the case, the resources assigned to the investigation were not proportionate.

“If a complaint is made they have to look into it,” she said. “But at a time when police numbers have been cut and people in County Durham … when they phone the police for a serious crime, they often have to wait for a police officer, I think it’s a completely disproportionate response.

“I think Durham council taxpayers will be very disappointed. If we had all the police resources in the world then that would be a different thing, but we don’t. We have little old ladies afraid to go outside because of yobs. We have serious crimes – burglaries and violence.”

Grahame Morris MP, whose Easington constituency is served by Durham Constabulary, said the investigation had been instigated following pressure from a County Durham Conservative MP, with the party “desperate to give Boris Johnson political cover for his Downing Street Covid criminality in the run up to local elections”.

“Durham Constabulary should not have been politicised by County Durham Conservatives,” Mr Morris said. “Local Conservatives will have to justify to voters the excessive cost and immense waste of police hours in their pernicious allegations.”

While he did not name the MP directly, Richard Holden, member for North West Durham, is regarded as having been a key campaigner for the case being reopened, and had written to the force urging them to do so. He was accused of “wasting police time” by the chair of the City of Durham Labour party in May 2022, and again by Claire Foy MP in July 2022.

When approached by NationalWorld, Mr Holden described Mr Morris’s comments as “incoherent” and said they “had no basis in fact”.

Allegations that the force had been “politicised” would seem to suggest that it had acted in a party political manner, he said, while highlighting that Durham Constabulary has a Labour Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

A spokesperson for Joy Allen PCC said she had no involvement in deciding the level of resources that were to be used, and that the case was an operational matter that fell outside of her jurisdiction.

Durham Constabulary declined to respond, but a spokesperson pointed to a statement released in July 2022 which said the concluded investigation had been “thorough, detailed and proportionate”.

The response to our FOI request can be found here.