Calendar An icon of a desk calendar. Cancel An icon of a circle with a diagonal line across. Caret An icon of a block arrow pointing to the right. Email An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of the Facebook "f" mark. Google An icon of the Google "G" mark. Linked In An icon of the Linked In "in" mark. Logout An icon representing logout. Profile An icon that resembles human head and shoulders. Telephone An icon of a traditional telephone receiver. Tick An icon of a tick mark. Is Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes. Is Not Public An icon of a human eye and eyelashes with a diagonal line through it. Pause Icon A two-lined pause icon for stopping interactions. Quote Mark A opening quote mark. Quote Mark A closing quote mark. Arrow An icon of an arrow. Folder An icon of a paper folder. Breaking An icon of an exclamation mark on a circular background. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Caret An icon of a caret arrow. Clock An icon of a clock face. Close An icon of the an X shape. Close Icon An icon used to represent where to interact to collapse or dismiss a component Comment An icon of a speech bubble. Comments An icon of a speech bubble, denoting user comments. Ellipsis An icon of 3 horizontal dots. Envelope An icon of a paper envelope. Facebook An icon of a facebook f logo. Camera An icon of a digital camera. Home An icon of a house. Instagram An icon of the Instagram logo. LinkedIn An icon of the LinkedIn logo. Magnifying Glass An icon of a magnifying glass. Search Icon A magnifying glass icon that is used to represent the function of searching. Menu An icon of 3 horizontal lines. Hamburger Menu Icon An icon used to represent a collapsed menu. Next An icon of an arrow pointing to the right. Notice An explanation mark centred inside a circle. Previous An icon of an arrow pointing to the left. Rating An icon of a star. Tag An icon of a tag. Twitter An icon of the Twitter logo. Video Camera An icon of a video camera shape. Speech Bubble Icon A icon displaying a speech bubble WhatsApp An icon of the WhatsApp logo. Information An icon of an information logo. Plus A mathematical 'plus' symbol. Duration An icon indicating Time. Success Tick An icon of a green tick. Success Tick Timeout An icon of a greyed out success tick. Loading Spinner An icon of a loading spinner.

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

(GOV.UK/PA)
(GOV.UK/PA)

Sue Gray has gone from an influential but little-known arbiter of conduct in Government to a household name in the space of five months.

She took on the civil service investigation into allegations of coronavirus rule-breaking at No 10 in December, and Downing Street is braced for the Cabinet Office official’s long-awaited report.

Before the Metropolitan Police completed its own inquiry into so-called partygate claims, which saw Boris Johnson fined for contravening Covid laws, Ms Gray was seen as holding the fate of the Prime Minister in her hands.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson is awaiting the Sue Gray report into lockdown parties in No 10
Boris Johnson is awaiting the Sue Gray report into lockdown parties at No 10 (Matt Dunham/PA)

Scotland Yard last week said it had issued 126 fines against 83 people across eight dates from May 2020 to April 2021 as part of its Operation Hillman inquiry into lockdown breaches in Downing Street and Whitehall.

This means Ms Gray’s report could cause less of a splash than first expected, but it could still make for awkward reading for the Government and could spark some Conservative MPs into handing in letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister.

Her interim report, published in January after police announced they were starting their own probe, highlighted “failures of leadership and judgment” at the top of Government, along with criticisms of a drinking culture in No 10.

Since the Met wrapped up its investigation last week, an increasingly bitter briefings war has broken out in the media between No 10 and Ms Gray’s team, with one unnamed source telling The Times that she had been “enjoying the limelight a little too much”.

Allies of Ms Gray have rejected the suggestion.

While she is said to shun the media spotlight, some politicians have gone so far as to suggest the former publican is the “real leader” of the UK.

In her former role as director-general of propriety and ethics in the Cabinet Office from 2012 to 2018, she is said to have overseen cabinet reshuffles, served as a guiding hand in compiling honours lists, and even signed off political memoirs before their publication.

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

Ms Gray, in her mid-60s, found herself thrust into the limelight last year after being chosen to step in to lead the investigation into possible wrongdoing in Downing Street after Cabinet Secretary Simon Case – her boss – recused himself following allegations that his own office held a Christmas event in December 2020.

Reportedly dubbed “deputy God” by some in the civil service, Ms Gray, who is said to be a cat lover, is no stranger to a standards investigation, having led two previous reviews into the behaviour of cabinet ministers.

Polly Mackenzie, who served as policy director in the Cabinet Office under former deputy prime minister Nick Clegg, said Ms Gray knew what holding the power to end careers felt like.

“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 civil servant.

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

Ms Gray’s reviews of senior cabinet ministerial behaviour in the past have led to high-profile sackings and resignations.

Former prime minister Theresa May tasked her with investigating her close ally, Damian Green, over allegations that he had lied about the presence of pornographic images on his Commons computer, and she also spearheaded the so-called “plebgate” inquiry into claims that then-chief whip Andrew Mitchell insulted police officers on Downing Street.

Damian Green was investigated by Sue Gray when he was de facto deputy prime minister
Damian Green was investigated by Sue Gray when he was de facto deputy prime minister (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

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

Some critics have suggested she has been influential in blocking freedom of information requests, with former BBC Newsnight journalist Chris Cook reporting in 2015 that she was “notorious for her determination not to leave a document trail” and had assisted departments to “fight disclosures”.

According to her Government biography, Ms Gray started working for the Cabinet Office in the late 1990s following her stint behind the bar in Northern Ireland during a “career break”.

After her time as head of ethics in the Cabinet Office, she served as the permanent secretary of the Department of Finance in Northern Ireland from 2018 to 2021.

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

Since May 2021, she has been back in the Cabinet Office as second permanent secretary with responsibility for the Union, in a role that also sees her with responsibilities in Michael Gove’s Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.

Already a subscriber? Sign in

[[title]]

[[text]]

More from the Press and Journal Politics team

More from the Press and Journal