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BBC’s Nick Robinson apologises for wrongly claiming that ‘Downing Street’ cleaner died of Covid

BBC presenter Nick Robinson has today apologised after wrongly claiming a Ministry of Justice cleaner died ‘of Covid’ while working in ‘Downing Street’.

The Radio 4 Today show host brought up the tragic death of government cleaner Emanuel Gomes while grilling Boris Johnson‘s chief of staff Steve Barclay over Partygate.

Quoting a report by political sketch magazine, The Critic, he said Mr Gomes had been ‘instructed to keep coming into work during lockdown, had contracted Covid and had died’.

He later referred to Mr Gomes as having worked at Downing Street – where he was ‘surrounded by people who were routinely breaking the rules’.

But Mr Gomes had not been working at Downing Street at the time of his death – because he was a cleaner for the Ministry of Justice.

And while colleagues had raised concerns that Mr Gomes had been suffering Covid-like symptoms in the lead up to his death in April 2020, an official coroner’s report recorded it as hypertension of the heart.

Today the experienced BBC journalist apologised, describing his choice of wording as a ‘mistake’.

It comes amid concerns, raised in Sue Gray’s report, about how Downing Street staff treated support staff, including cleaners, during the period of Partygate.

Issuing an apology via the social media site Twitter, he wrote: ‘A correction and an apology: This morning in an interview with the prime minister’s chief of staff I raised the case – reported in the Critic magazine – of “one government cleaner who contracted Covid and died”.

BBC presenter Nick Robinson has today issued a grovelling apology after quizzing a top Tory MP over the ‘Covid’ death of a ‘Downing Street’ cleaner – who did not work at Number 10

The Radio 4 Today show host brought up the tragic death of government cleaner Emanuel Gomes (pictured) while grilling Boris Johnson's chief of staff Steve Barclay over Partygate

The Radio 4 Today show host brought up the tragic death of government cleaner Emanuel Gomes (pictured) while grilling Boris Johnson’s chief of staff Steve Barclay over Partygate

‘I went on to describe this man as an individual who had been instructed to work in Downing Street who was surrounded by people breaking the rules. 

Fury as Tory MP Richard Bacon says Boris Johnson should not be ‘condemned’ over Partygate because NHS staff were also ‘letting their hair down’ during pandemic 

By Jack Wright for MailOnline 

A Conservative MP has sparked a fresh partygate row after suggesting that NHS workers also broke Covid rules during the pandemic.

Richard Bacon, who has held the safe seat of South Norfolk since 2001, tried to justify boozy lockdown-busting parties in Boris Johnson‘s Government by implying that health staff across the UK also flouted the restrictions.

Speaking to BBC regional news programme Look East, he said: ‘I am not happy with the revelations, but I think they were working under huge pressure – you haven’t investigated it, but there are 1.5million people who work in the NHS and I bet if you tried hard enough you could find some people letting their hair down who had been working 24-7.

‘We were under extraordinary pressure in a global pandemic and we didn’t really know what we were dealing with.’

He added: ‘The fact he [Mr Johnson] goes round thanking his staff for working very, very hard, 18 hours a day trying to keep the show on the road while we were in a global pandemic, is not a crime and I don’t think it is something he should be condemned for and I certainly don’t think it is something he should resign for – I support Boris.’

Seizing on Mr Bacon’s remarks, Labour shadow health secretary Wes Streeting called on the MP to apologise for his ‘grotesque insult’.

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Also taking to Twitter, former England ace Gary Lineker raged: ‘Hospitals are really big buildings. Nurses and doctors were working really long hours. Some of them, no doubt, left their jobs and, yet, somehow still managed not to have a party after work and follow the rules that they didn’t actually make’.

One social media user called Mr Bacon’s comments a ‘poor take of the day’, while another thundered: ‘Disgraceful comment from #RichardBacon MP, an insult to all #NHS workers. I need to declare an interest as a member of my family works in the NHS, and I find his comments sickening, insulting and arrogant’.

Another added: ‘I have never been so angry about comments about our NHS workers then this fool has been made.’

‘That was a mistake and I apologise for it. Emanuel Gomes worked in the Ministry of Justice.

‘There is, incidentally, a dispute about the cause of Mr Gomes’s death in April 2020 before COVID testing was routine. 

‘The family were reportedly told that he had died of COVID but the post-mortem recorded a different cause of death.’

The error came during a stiff interview with Mr Barclay, who took up the Downing Street Chief of Staff role earlier this year, replacing civil servant Dan Rosenfield.

While taking the MP to task over the Government’s response to yesterday’s Partgate report by Sue Gray, the BBC presenter referenced the death of Mr Gomes. 

He said: ‘Thanks to a report in The Critic Magazine today, I learnt this morning that one Government cleaner, instructed to keep coming into work during lockdown, contracted Covid and died.

‘His name was Emanuel Gomes. What do you think this family, what do you think his friends will be thinking today, when you say to them that the Prime Minister didn’t know that booze was being brought in in industrial quantities so that people could relax after work.

Mr Barclay replied: ‘All our hearts will go out to his family just as a constituency MP I have heard many absolutely distressing stories from my constituents who weren’t able to attend funerals and who lost loved ones. And it was an incredibly fraught time…

But the BBC journalist then interrupted, saying: ‘The point in this case was that this man was instructed to work in Downing Street and he was surrounded by people who were routinely breaking the rules, that he was told to follow. 

‘Is it good enough for you and the Prime Minister to say, to him and others who followed the rules, “we didn’t really know what was going on in the building we work in”.

Barclay replied: ‘I think you are characterising this as if this was the norm every day at all times. 

‘We are talking about a small minority over the course of a two-year period, often on occasion when the PM was not in the building. Of course, in relation to that specific incident, that is a heartbreaking case to flag.

‘But I think it is important to flag that there were many staff working in Downing Street, they worked incredibly hard getting our vaccine rollout right, getting the PPE outright.

‘I think it would be unfair to suggest the actions of a very small minority on a very specific few days were reflective of the wider effort in terms of getting the big decision right on Covid.’

Mr Gomes, who worked as a cleaner at the Ministry of Justice, died in April 2020 at the height of the first Covid lockdown.

While most civil servants had been sent home, Mr Gomes and his colleagues were told they should keep coming in to the MoJ’s central London office.

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According to family members of Mr Gomes, who is originally from Guinea and been working for cleaning firm OCS since 2018, he felt pressure to continue coming into work.

Boris Johnson (left) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak at a gathering in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street on his birthday, which has been released with the publication of Sue's Gray report into Downing Street parties during lockdown

Boris Johnson (left) and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak at a gathering in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street on his birthday, which has been released with the publication of Sue’s Gray report into Downing Street parties during lockdown

Sue Gray’s Partygate findings at a glance 

  • The report found the ‘senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility’ for the culture of flouting Covid rules 
  • No10 private secretary Martin Reynolds was warned that a Bring Your Own Booze party on May 20, 2020 was ‘somewhat of a comms risk’. Mr Reynolds remarked afterwards that they seemed to have ‘got away with it’ 
  • A raucous leaving do on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral lasted until 4:20am and spread into the garden, with the swing used by PM’s young son broken – although Mr Johnson was not present 
  • There were multiple examples of ‘unacceptable’ treatment of security and cleaning staff 
  • Former ethics chief Helen MacNamara provided a karaoke machine for a Cabinet Office leaving do on June 18, 2020
  • There was a fight at the event on June 18 and someone was sick 
  • Mr Johnson joined five special advisers in a meeting with ‘food and alcohol’ in his No11 flat on November 13, 2020, after the announcement of Dominic Cummings’ departure
  • Ms Gray said she had not looked into whether the so-called ‘Abba Party’ on that date breached lockdown 
  • Mr Johnson brought the cheese and wine pictured in a garden gathering on May 15 2020 from his flat, although it appears to have been a valid work event 

Union officials alleged to The Guardian at the time of his death that one of his colleague had been sacked by text while self-isolating. 

According to the paper, colleagues say Mr Gomes, who lived in a rented property in Plaistow, east London, began to feel sick with Covid-like symptoms shortly before his death.

One colleague, Amadou, told The Guardian: ‘In the last few days he was really ill. He lost his appetite, he had phlegm and he seemed to have a fever. 

‘I helped him home … by the time we got to Victoria station he was so sick he didn’t know where he was.’

Mr Gomes’s death came at a time when widespread testing had not yet been implemented. 

The London Ambulance Service and Metropolitan Police officially categorised Mr Gomes’s passing as ‘death due to Covid-19’

However, according to Tortoise, his family waited eight weeks before receiving a formal notice from the coroner. 

After a post-mortem, a coroner at Walthamstow Coroner’s Court recorded Mr Gomes’s death as a result of hypertension of the heart.

Mr Robinson’s apology comes as yesterday Boris Johnson defended attending certain Downing Street lockdown parties by saying it was his ‘duty’ to attend farewell events for colleagues.

Sue Gray’s long-awaited report into lockdown parties delivered a scathing verdict on the culture in No10, saying many events ‘should not have been allowed to happen’.

The Prime Minister was challenged by senior Tory MPs yesterday evening, who questioned whether he should lead them into the next general election.

He insisted it was necessary to meet with departing No10 officials to ‘thank them for their service’, while adding that it was ‘one of the essential duties of leadership’, The Telegraph reports

Johnson publicly said he had been vindicated over Partygate but he faced a terse meeting with his own MPs at the 1922 Committee – where loud banging of desks could apparently be heard from the hallways.

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According to one Conservative source, the PM is reported to have said that Downing Street staff were not ‘partying as if it was Saturday night in July in Ibiza, they were actually working extremely hard – flat out’.

The PM said that, after months of investigations, it was now time to ‘move on’ and ‘focus on the priorities of the British people… easing the hardship caused by the rising costs people are facing’. 

In a major statement of intent, Rishi Sunak will today unveil £10billion of cost of living support for those most in need. 

The Chancellor’s package, partly funded by a windfall tax on the oil and gas giants, will include grants to help low income families with energy bills, together with help for the so-called ‘squeezed middle’ – potentially council tax discounts. 

Johnson (right) at a gathering in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street on his birthday in 2020. The PM said he had been 'vindicated' by the report but faced a meeting with own MPs yesterday evening at the 1922 Committee

Johnson (right) at a gathering in the Cabinet Room in 10 Downing Street on his birthday in 2020. The PM said he had been ‘vindicated’ by the report but faced a meeting with own MPs yesterday evening at the 1922 Committee

A snap YouGov poll after the report found 59 per cent of Britons believe Mr Johnson should quit - but just 7 per cent thought that he would do so

A snap YouGov poll after the report found 59 per cent of Britons believe Mr Johnson should quit – but just 7 per cent thought that he would do so

Johnson pictured at a gathering in 10 Downing Street for the departure of a special adviser on November 13, 2020.

Johnson pictured at a gathering in 10 Downing Street for the departure of a special adviser on November 13, 2020. 

Addressing MPs on the findings of Miss Gray’s 37-page report, the Prime Minister said he took full responsibility, adding: ‘I have learnt a lesson.’ 

Mr Johnson told MPs he had been ‘appalled’ by lurid details of bad behaviour by officials at drunken parties. But he said it had been his duty to gather staff to ‘briefly’ attend leaving dos for senior officials working flat out on the pandemic – and he said this view had been ‘vindicated by the investigation’. 

The PM also turned the tables on Sir Keir Starmer, who called on the PM to ‘pack his bags’, despite the fact he himself is under police investigation for an alleged breach of lockdown rules. 

In a reference to the Labour leader’s beer and curry event with activists in Durham last year, Mr Johnson mocked his opponent as ‘Sir Beer Korma’. 

Mr Johnson’s Tory critics had long seen the publication of the report as the pretext for a coup against his leadership. But the lack of new evidence directly against him saw the plot fizzle out. 

One image showed the PM and Chancellor a few feet apart next to a table with pitchers of juice and M&S sandwiches. 

The report detailed a number of events that appeared to include clear breaches at lockdown restrictions. 

At a farewell party for a senior adviser in June 2020, Miss Gray reported ‘excessive’ alcohol consumption by some, leading one official to be sick and others to end the night in an ‘altercation’. 

In a statement, the campaign group Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice said: ‘Just as we will never forget being apart from those closest to us whilst they passed away, or having to hold miserable funerals with only a handful of people, millions will never forgive them for the disrespect they’ve shown.’ 

Sir Keir said the report by Whitehall ethics chief Miss Gray would stand as a monument to hubris and arrogance.

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