A potential typo by a Labor MP may be at the heart of a police decision to re-open the investigation of Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer.
The Labor leader has maintained he did not breach coronavirus rules by eating curry and drinking beer during a campaign visit to a local party office in April 2021.
Officers from Durham Constabulary, who initially said they did not believe an offense had been committed, announced on Friday they would re-investigate claims he might have broken pandemic social distancing regulations.
Police said they had U-turned on an earlier decision after receiving “significant new information”.
It came a week after North West Durham MP Richard Holden penned a letter to the force in which he said he had discovered a “concerning new piece of evidence” about the event, which took place in the office of Mary Foy, the City of Durham MP, in the run-up to the Hartlepool by-election.
He claimed an online invitation showed the City of Durham Labor Party invited people to a “Quiz and Social in-person event” on the same night, “at the location where Keir Starmer was filmed socializing and drinking beer”.
He also alleged that a Facebook message on the event page from local MP, Mary Kelly Foy, “encouraged attendees to have a ‘greasy night’, which Urban Dictionary defines as an evening which involves ‘drinking too much’.”
What does ‘greasy night’ mean?
In Mr Holden’s letter to police on 22 April, he claimed “greasy night” is defined on Urban Dictionary as involving a lot of alcohol.
However, there is no definition for “greasy night” on Urban Dictionary.
The website, which allows members of the public to submit and vote on their own definitions of words, does include one user-submitted definition for “greasy” from 2006 which references a “greasy night out” as one which entails “spending too much money , drinking too much, doing too many drugs, hanging out with drugs of society people” – though it is unclear how this would apply to a constituency Labor Party quiz.
The term does not appear widely used by any means.
A Labor spokesperson said: “We’re obviously happy to answer any questions there are and we remain clear that no rules were broken.”
Defenders of the MP have speculated that she simply meant to write “have a great night” – with the potential typo flagged at the time.
Critics have also questioned Mr Holden’s allegation that the quiz was an “in-person” event, with the post advertising the event urging members to “check your emails for (a) Zoom link”.
There is no suggestion that Sir Keir attended the quiz in any capacity.
What does Starmer say?
Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, told reporters on Friday in London – having returned from a victory lap around the country following Labor local elections successes – he did not believe breached rules by having a curry and beer while working.
“As I’ve explained a number of times, we were working in the office, we stopped for something to eat – no party, no breach of the rules,” he said.
“The police obviously have got their job to do, we should let them get on with it.
“But I’m confident that no rules were broken.”
The police faced mounting pressure in the final weeks of the local campaign to re-examine election allegations of wrongdoing by the opposition leader.
This came after footage emerged of Sir Keir drinking a beer with reportedly up to 30 colleagues at a constituency office in Durham in April 2021 while campaigning for the Hartlepool by-election.
At the time of the gathering, non-essential retail and outdoor venues including pub gardens were open but social distancing rules, which included a ban on indoor mixing between households, remained in place.
Sir Keir previously said no restaurants or pubs were open at the time of the alleged offence, and the hotel he and his colleagues were staying in did not serve food, so “if you didn’t get a takeaway then our team wasn’t eating that evening”.