‘I feel like a fool’: Britons who grieved and died alone as No 10 partied

Cassie Garbutt’s brother, Glen Southern, was in the grip of a mental health crisis on the night revellers in No 10 got so drunk that one vomited and others got into a fight.

As Cassie read Sue Gray’s report on Wednesday morning, it was the bacchanalian account of a Downing Street staffer’s leaving drinks on 18 June 2020 that was hardest to accept.

While No 10 partygoers nursed their hangovers the following day, Glen, a married father of six, left his house in Lytham in Lancashire for the last time. On 20 June he was found dead in his office by two of his adult children. He was 46.

Glen had been struggling in the two months since his mother, Brenda, died alone in hospital at 72, having caught Covid in her nursing home.

Cassie, 45, said reading Gray’s account of those days in June 2020 had worsened her sense of injustice at their family’s trauma. “My brother was upset that this was happening yet they were partying through it. It’s just shocking. There’s a real lack of humanity.”

Cassie, an art teacher who lives in York, had felt unable to visit her brother more than 100 miles away because of the restrictions at the time. “It never entered my head to go to his house. We were told it was everywhere: you stay home, you save lives.”

From left: Cassie, her niece (Glen’s daughter) Jessica, Glen and her mum Brenda.
From left: Cassie, her niece (Glen’s daughter) Jessica, Glen and the siblings’ mother, Brenda.

She last saw him at their mother’s funeral on 20 April 2020, which was limited to six people, standing apart in households. She said Glen was haunted by the suffering hiss mother would have gone through when she died alone in Blackpool Victoria hospital with no visitors.

“The biggest regret in my life is not hugging him,” Cassie said. “Maybe it wouldn’t have changed what happened but I just thought I was following the rules.”

Cassie is determined that those in Downing Street hear what happened to families like hers. “I want people to know that this is what was going on while they were doing it,” she said.

“I didn’t want my mum dying alone. And then to think my brother was spiralling on that night of the 19th when they were having birthday celebrations … it’s sickening and immoral and just hugely unfair.

“It never entered my head to break the rules. You’d hope someone [in No 10] would be thinking of doing the right thing. I think at no point it was thought about what others were going through and the dark places that people were visiting in their mind.”

She is disappointed that there have not been more consequences for Boris Johnson. “I find it quite scary that someone with this much power can pretty much do what he wants. He can make the law and break the law and then nothing happens about it.”

Mike Handley, 54, was planning his father Ian’s funeral over Zoom on 13 November, when Johnson attended a “gathering” at his flat. The event, which reportedly included food, drink and Abba music, was not fully investigated by Gray.

Ian Handley, who died of Covid in November 2020.
Ian Handley, who died of Covid in November 2020.

“The fact that Boris was stood there on that day that we’re arranging the funeral and he’s toasting Lee Cain and the rest of them. It’s just grating,” Mike said.

That evening Mike, from Chorley in Lancashire, was isolating with his mother and they had not been able to meet his sister and the vicar in person to discuss funeral plans.

“We were abiding by the rules,” he said. “Even straight after he died, my sister came home from the hospital and she literally stood outside the kitchen window talking to us.”

Ian, a former bus driver who died aged 76, was an officer in the Boys’ Brigade and a regular churchgoer. He had pre-chosen the hymns for his funeral, imagining his family singing along to Will Your Anchor Hold and Abide With Me.

But restrictions in churches meant they had to stand in silence instead. Hearing that there was a karaoke machine at one of No 10’s parties has infuriated Mike.

“All the music was piped through from a recording and we couldn’t sing. We just had to stand there and listen,” he said.

Lindsay Jackson, 64, a retired civil servant from Bakewell in Derbyshire, was unable to see her mother, Sylvia, in the weeks before she died of Covid in a nursing home on 17 April 2020.

She said: “It’s very upsetting and devastating to know that the people who set the laws weren’t actually following them in the way that the rest of us were.

“It makes me feel like a fool for not having broken the rules myself and been with my mum when she died. She was alone. And she wouldn’t have been if I hadn’t been following the rules.”