Who is Sue Gray – Partygate probe chief now in line to be Sir Keir Starmer’s top aide

File photo dated 13/6/202 of senior civil servant Sue Gray who has quit the Cabinet Office and is reportedly set to take up a role as Sir Keir Starmer's chief of staff. Issue date: Thursday March 2, 2023. PA Photo. See PA story POLITICS Gray. Photo credit should read: Aaron Chown/PA Wire

BEFORE the December of 2021, nobody outside Westminster had ever heard of Sue Gray.

But her name was soon on everyone’s lips as the nation waited months for her report into Downing Street parties during lockdown.

Sue Gray has spent a lifetime at the heart of Whitehall

Her verdict was damning, accusing Boris Johnson and other leaders of creating a culture of booze that led to ministers and officials breaking the rules they had inflicted on the country.

From a trove of texts, pictures and interviews she painted a picture of brazen debauchery that saw staff be rude to cleaners and throw up in No10. 

The hammer blow sparked the steady spiral of the PM that ultimately led to his resignation.

Her appointment as Sir Keir Starmer’s top aide last night caused uproar with critics casting doubt on the entire probe.

Gray, 65, was never meant to lead the inquiry and was only asked when the Cabinet Secretary recused himself after being revealed to have attended a gathering.

Her appointment was widely welcomed, with Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell saying he couldn’t think “of a better person to put in charge of this review”.

Through a lifetime in the civil service she had built a reputation as a no-nonsense fair dealer of integrity. 

At the time she was the second ranking mandarin in the new Levelling Up Department following stints at the Cabinet Office and Finance Department.

In 2012 as Whitehall’s ethics chief she oversaw the Plebgate inquiry into Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell calling the Downing St cops “plebs”. 

Ahead of Partygate, Gray’s influence at the heart of government – for which is paid more than £150,0000 – led to her being dubbed “the most powerful person you’ve never heard of.”

But within SW1 she was well reputed as a hardened operator, famed for running a pub in Newry, Northern Ireland in the 1980s at the height of the Troubles with her husband Bill. 

Their son Liam is chair of the Labour Party Irish Society and a vocal party activist.

Yet the enigmatic mandarin has been known to let her hair down and belt out Grease on karaoke. 

Yesterday she brought the curtain down on her Whitehall career in spectacular fashion, resigning as second permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office with immediate effect.

And she wants to be back in a department she has never conquered – No10 Downing St.