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Poignant letter to Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson from constituent who attended her mother's funeral the day before 10 Downing Street staff held Christmas party



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A constituent of Bishop's Stortford's MP has spoken of her anger and upset at hearing that a lockdown Christmas party was held at No 10 Downing Street – the day after she had to observe strict rules when she attended her mother's funeral.

Amid mounting public fury, Boris Johnson apologised at Prime Minister's Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday (Dec 8) and said he had ordered an inquiry after a leaked video showed his staff joking at a mock news conference about the party.

The PM told a packed chamber he had been "repeatedly assured that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken". He apologised "unreservedly" for the offence caused by the video clip, claiming he was "furious" about it.

Julie Marson (53607314)
Julie Marson (53607314)

The party was held on Friday December 18 last year – two days after London moved into the highest tier of Covid restrictions

The day before the party – when the Government tweeted that "you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party" – Lesley Bowen and her brother Robert were attending their mother Margaret Carter's funeral in Lincolnshire.

A lifelong Conservative voter, Margaret lived in a care home in Boston and contracted Covid there last November. She died on December 7, aged 86. Lesley had not seen her in person for 10 months.

Margaret Carter with the youngest of her four grandchildren (53608378)
Margaret Carter with the youngest of her four grandchildren (53608378)

"She would tell anyone who would listen – even complete strangers – all about her four grandchildren," said Lesley. "She was a member of the local Centenary Church and spent a great deal of time helping out there.

"She loved making good use of her bus pass and travelling round the county. She was a keen reader and crossworder, with a great love of language, and an avid knitter."

Lesley, who lives in Hertford, said: "We travelled up to Boston (in tier 3 restrictions at the time) on the 17th [of December] for her funeral. Only a handful of people were allowed in the church and only the family were able to go to the graveside, and we weren't able to hold a wake to celebrate her life."

She wrote to Julie Marson, the Conservative MP for Hertford and Stortford, last Wednesday (Dec 1) to say: "I was shocked, but not particularly surprised, to learn in today’s newspapers that a Christmas party [was held] at Downing Street on December 18 last year. This was at a time when the Covid rules specifically stated that parties should not be taking place, under any circumstances.

Julie Marson campaigning with Boris Johnson in Dagenham for the 2017 General Election (53607261)
Julie Marson campaigning with Boris Johnson in Dagenham for the 2017 General Election (53607261)

"This is yet another example of your PM’s view that rules do not apply to him. One rule for you, another for the rest of us.

"This news is particularly galling for myself and my family, because the previous day we had attended my mother’s funeral.

"We had been unable to see her in person since the February before, due to Covid restrictions. We were only allowed a very limited number at the service and only immediate family at the graveside. We were unable to hold a wake to celebrate her life.

Lesley Bowen's mother, Margaret Carter, has a heart dedicated to her on the National Covid Memorial Wall on the South Bank of the River Thames in London
Lesley Bowen's mother, Margaret Carter, has a heart dedicated to her on the National Covid Memorial Wall on the South Bank of the River Thames in London

"Sadly, our experience is shared by many thousands of grieving relatives, who were unable to say farewell to their loved ones – while No 10 held a boozy party."

A week on, Mrs Bowen has received no reply from Ms Marson.

Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson in the House of Commons chamber
Hertford and Stortford MP Julie Marson in the House of Commons chamber

Lesley's husband, Nigel, wrote to their MP today (Wed Dec 8): "My wife, already distressed at the anniversary [yesterday of her mother's death], has been further distressed by the fact that a Christmas party was held in Downing Street and that the staff seemed to find flaunting the rules at the time most amusing.

"Your constituents followed the rules the Government did not. Support your constituents rather than this Government by condemning the party. If you were at the party or try to pretend that it did not take place, then shame on you."

Lesley said after seeing the video: "To be honest, 'angry' doesn't even do it justice. I was extremely upset that the Government just doesn't care. Especially coming on the anniversary of my mother's death."

Downing Street has spent the past week denying that the party had taken place at all. But that stance was undermined when a video obtained by ITV News showed the PM's then press chief Allegra Stratton – who today resigned as a Government advisor – joking about the party four days after it had taken place.

At the time, the Government's coronavirus guidance stated people should not have Christmas parties – and gatherings in London of two or more people indoors were banned unless they were "reasonably necessary" for work.

Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, the top civil servant at Downing Street, is to investigate whether Covid rules were broken at the staff party, with the PM promising disciplinary action against offenders.



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