Sheffield editor reveals rumours and questions behind council boss’s ‘sorry’ over Westminster lockdown party

For many journalists, the news that the former head of of the Cabinet Office Covid Taskforce attended a drinks reception in her honour during lockdown was an unexpected twist to PartyGate.

But for the team at the Sheffield Star, it was a story they had been pursuing for weeks — despite constant denials from Sheffield Council, where Kate Josephs is now chief executive.

Indeed, the leaving drinks held in her honour in December 2020 were to mark her departure from the Cabinet Office.

She made the revelation about the party just before Christmas 2020 in an online post yesterday following a week of nationwide outrage focused on the Downing Street party scandals. A report into the now many events which took place in Westminster is being compiled by senior civil servant Sue Gray.

A source told the Sheffield Telegraph last year that Kate Josephs had attended a party when lockdown restrictions were in place in December 2020.

But in response to the enquiries of journalists, Sheffield Council said she ‘categorically did not attend a party at Downing Street.’

Journalists at The Star also made enquiries and were given a similar response. A picture Kate Josephs posted on Twitter on December 18, 2020, to mark her final day in Government shows her standing outside 10 Downing Street.

Editor Nancy Feilder also shared her views with readers.

Nancy said: “Three different members of The Star team, including myself, have repeatedly in recent weeks asked the press team at Sheffield City Council whether the chief executive had been at a Downing Street party. We were sure she had.

“Every time, no matter which date or details given, we were given an absolute denial. It simply was not true, was the answer to every query.

“We didn’t have photographic evidence and there were no members of the civil service willing to throw colleagues under a bus then … as it appears they now are.

“Those who knew Kate didn’t believe it could be true and I spoke to several who told me they thought we had it wrong.

“My team were not convinced, no matter how hard it was to believe that any member of a Covid taskforce would break their own rules, and so we kept asking.”

Looking at why Sheffield Council didn’t confirm the leaving drinks, Nancy added: “Now technically, if we’re going to split hairs, the council boss was at a party thrown in her honour just around the corner from where the prime minister works, lives, socialises and seems unable to differentiate between the three.

A picture of Kate Josephs outside 10 Downing Street that she posted on Twitter on December 18, 2020, after leaving her former Government role

“So when The Star was told that she hadn’t been at a Downing Street party, she didn’t actually lie — but it also now very clear that we were not told the truth.

“The more journalists asked questions and the clearer it became that the story would come out, the more she was forced to put out that statement on Twitter yesterday afternoon.

“There can never be a good time to admit that you broke the rules that you were responsible for setting. I have absolutely no doubt that she is truly sorry but I am not sure that will be enough to save her job or restore faith.

“Who else at the council knew and refused to tell the truth? That is impossible to know. Perhaps nobody.

“All that really matters at the end of the day is what Sheffielders who our council is there to serve, make of it all.

“Whatever the national furore, the celebrity comments on social media and ridiculous number of parties that keep emerging … Sheffield will make the judgment on this one.”

To that end, The Star sought the views of readers, visiting Endcliffe Park, where residents were unanimous in the belief Mrs Joseph should resign over the scandal.

On social media and on The Star’s website, readers shared their experiences of life under lockdown and views on Mrs Joseph’s actions — again, support for the council chief executive was in short supply.

  • In 2022, Behind Local News aims to celebrate local journalism in all its forms through our 365 Acts of Local Journalism Project. Lets us know what you think should be included. You can email us here or contact us via Twitter on BehindLocalNews or on Facebook here




The stories behind the stories, from the regional press in the UK

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