‘Beyond shameful’: how Sue Gray’s report exposed No. 10’s treatment of cleaners and guards

Workers were laughed at and made to scrub wine stains

10 Downing Street on morning of 25 May
Sue Gray noted ‘multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment’ towards cleaning and security staff at No. 10
(Image credit: David Levenson/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson has offered an apology to No. 10’s security and cleaning staff for their “appalling” treatment revealed in Sue Gray’s report into lockdown gatherings held in and around Downing Street.

The PM said he had “personally apologised to those dedicated members of staff for what happened” but a union founder has already rejected his apology as “too little too late”.

In the conclusion of her final report, which was handed in to No. 10 on Wednesday, Gray wrote that she “was made aware of multiple examples of a lack of respect and poor treatment of security and cleaning staff”.

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The report revealed that one cleaner had to scrub red wine from a wall after a wild Christmas party that violated Covid restrictions and she noted that “some staff had witnessed or been subjected to behaviours at work which they had felt concerned about but at times felt unable to raise properly”.

Gray’s report came 24 hours after staffers who attended parties told the BBC’s Panorama that No. 10 security guards were “laughed at” when they tried to stop law-breaking parties. The Telegraph said that workers had been told to “f--- off”, according to one source.

‘Vomit-stained Bullingdon Club’

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said the prime minister had “turned Downing Street into a vomit-stained Bullingdon Club” and that the “treatment and mockery doled out to cleaning and security staff that has now been exposed is beyond shameful”.

In The Telegraph, Iain Dale said that “while no one is accusing the prime minister himself of behaving in this reprehensible manner” no one in Downing Street would have “dared” behave that way under Margaret Thatcher.

Writing for The Critic, Robert Hutton reminded readers that at least one government cleaner contracted Covid and died after being instructed to keep coming into work during lockdown. Emanuel Gomes, who was thought to be in his 60s, “passed away after working for five days with suspected Covid symptoms in a near-empty office, because he believed he could not afford to lose income”, reported Caroline Molloy on OpenDemocracy.

Underpaid and overworked

Unions have reacted to the revelations with anger. Dr Paul Chiy, founder of the Cleaners Union, told the Evening Standard that he was “appalled that underpaid and overworked cleaners” were left to mop up the mess after parties, while Jim Melvin, chairman of the British Cleaning Council, said No. 10 cleaners appear to have been treated with “contempt”.

A member of the Public and Commercial Service (PCS) union working in the Cabinet Office told The Guardian that “there’s been a culture of bullying, harassment and sexism in No. 10 for many years”, dating back to Theresa May’s reign.

Petros Elia, general secretary of the United Voices of World union for low paid, migrant and precarious workers, said the organisation was “not in the least bit surprised” about the revelations, adding that most cleaners and security guards “are ethnic minority workers, Black, brown and migrant people, who are disproportionately impacted by poor working conditions and racialised inequalities”.

Addressing parliament yesterday, the prime minister said rudeness towards staff was “absolutely inexcusable” and that “whoever was responsible” should apologise.

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Chas Newkey-Burden has been part of The Week Digital team for more than a decade and a journalist for 25 years, starting out on the irreverent football weekly 90 Minutes, before moving to lifestyle magazines Loaded and Attitude. He was a columnist for The Big Issue and landed a world exclusive with David Beckham that became the weekly magazine’s bestselling issue. He now writes regularly for The Guardian, The Telegraph, The Independent, Metro, FourFourTwo and the i new site. He is also the author of a number of non-fiction books.