THE Metropolitan Police investigation into lockdown breaches in Downing Street and elsewhere in Whitehall may only focus on "finable offences", it is understood.

The force was widely criticised for asking that Sue Gray's report into the partygate scandal make "minimal reference" to events that Scotland Yard is investigating due to a risk of "prejudicing" their investigations.

The Met have insisted that they have not asked for the senior civil servant's report to be delayed, but it has still not been released despite being understood to be complete.

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However, the police statement does indicate that there will have to be significant changes to the report before publication or that it will have to be delayed until after the force concludes inquiries.

It is not clear which of the 16 potential gatherings, parties and events that broke lockdown rules on government property the Met are investigating, but it is now understood that they may not investigate more serious offences.

The PA news agency has reported that officers are looking into possible breaches of Covid rules that will warrant fixed penalty notices. The force is reportedly concerned about the ability of officers to effectively investigate more serious crimes.

The recent revelation was met with more calls for the Gray report to be published in full.

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SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford tweeted in response: "Which is absolutely no justification for stopping the full publication of the Gray report.

"It needs to be published in full allowing us to get on and hold the UK Govt to account."

Legal figures have questioned the Met's assertion that publication of the Gray report in full will "prejudice" the force's investigations. The force is reportedly drawing up a statement to explain its "unfortunate" use of the word.

Nazir Afzal, a former chief Crown prosecutor for the North West, said on Twitter: “This is absolute nonsense from the Met Police. A purely factual report by Sue Gray cannot possibly prejudice a police investigation.

“They just have to follow the evidence, of which the report will be a part.”

Kate Macnab, criminal and investigations lawyer at Reeds Solicitors, agreed that the suggestion the findings of the inquiry could prejudice the police investigation was “nonsense”.

She added: “The Metropolitan Police have an opportunity to rebuild public support in their ability to investigate impartially and independently and they should be using this as a springboard to rebuild that confidence.”

Human rights barrister Adam Wagner, who has spent the pandemic interpreting complex coronavirus laws and explaining them to the public, said: “I am not a criminal lawyer so perhaps I am missing something. How would a factual civil service report about events the police is investigating ‘prejudice’ their investigation?”

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But Nick Aldworth, a former Metropolitan Police chief superintendent and counter-terrorism national co-ordinator, said the report could prejudice the police investigation “by disclosing the evidence that they will gather and thereby giving the potential defendants an opportunity to conceal or alter evidence”.

Publication of official reports and other inquiries can often be delayed until a police investigation and any subsequent court case or inquest is concluded, typically to avoid the risk of prejudicing a jury if a criminal trial was to take place.

But in this instance, if police investigate under the provisions of the coronavirus regulations then there would be little risk of prejudice as the penalty for breaching lockdown rules is a fixed-penalty notice and it is highly unlikely to result in a prosecution.