Revealed: No one has paid £10,000 fines issued for breaking Covid rules
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
Headline grabbing £10,000 fines for organisers of large gatherings were introduced at the height of the pandemic, but none issued in Norfolk have been paid.
A woman who helped organise a demonstration of Covid sceptics in Norwich that was addressed by Piers Corbyn was among six people fined £10,000 by Norfolk police between March 27, 2020 and December 19, 2021.
Also issued with the hefty fine for contravening the ban on being involved in holding a gathering of more than 30 people was a 23-year-old man from Newmarket who helped organise a rave in Thetford Forest attended by more than 500 people.
While three University of East Anglia students were also fined £10,000 each for holding a house party that up to 100 people attended.
However it has now emerged that none has ultimately paid £10,000.
In three cases, following further enquiries, no further action was taken due to insufficient evidence and the fines were withdrawn, police said.
In two other cases, enquiries led to alternative fines of £100 being issued and these were paid in full.
The remaining case went to Norwich Magistrates Court where the defendant was ordered to pay a £1,000 fine, £100 victim surcharge and £650 costs.
Figures show in total 1,874 people have been issued with fixed penalty notices (FPNs) in Norfolk for breaching Covid-19 restrictions since 2020.
According to new data from the National Police Chief’s Council, a total of 118,963 fines have been handed out in England and Wales.
Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill, NPCC lead for Operation Talla, the police response to the pandemic, said there are still some restrictions – such as the use of face coverings and self-isolation rules – in place for good reason.
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He added: “We have observed very high compliance by the public.
"Officers have very rarely had to use their powers in recent months, only enforcing where there are clear breaches of the rules or people haven't responded to explanation and encouragement.”
Covid regulations placed police officers in a position where they could hand down significant punishment, without the trial or open nature of a courtroom.
But throughout the pandemic Norfolk Constabulary said the rules had been set out by the government, and its policing approach had been to “engage, explain and encourage” people to follow the rules.
“Where these efforts are ignored and we see flagrant breaches, officers will use their discretion and powers available to them to resolve breaches,” they said.
Despite this, people at a children's birthday party in Thetford and people who hired an AirBnB for Valentine's weekend were among those fined for breaching rules on indoor gatherings.
A couple who made the 120-mile trip from Northamptonshire to see the seals at Horsey and a man who travelled from Bristol to walk his dogs in Norfolk were among those to be fined for breaching lockdown rules.
However the figures show just six people in Norfolk have been issued FPNs for not wearing face coverings, three for failing to self-isolate and two for breaching international travel regulations.
The issuing of fines has varied significantly between police forces. In neighbouring forces Suffolk has issued 1,110 while 951 people have been fined in Cambridgeshire.
It comes after the Metropolitan Police launched an investigation into lockdown parties held in 10 Downing Street during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prime minister Boris Johnson has already apologised after it emerged his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, invited more than 100 members of staff to a “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden in May 2020 during the first lockdown.
Liberty said the government has given the police "blunt and coercive powers to enforce lockdowns", when it should have been prioritising public health.
Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at the organisation, said: "Throughout the pandemic we have seen overzealous policing and chaotic communications, leaving people confused and fearful of prosecution.
“The discrepancies in these regional figures show that the restrictions were unclear, leaving it up to local police forces to interpret the law. Clearly, this opened the door to inconsistency and discrimination."
Detective chief superintendent Julie Wvendth, of Norfolk Constabulary, said: “Our policing approach throughout the pandemic has always followed the 4Es, with officers engaging, explaining and encouraging adherence in the first instance, with enforcement used as a last resort.
“Where appropriate and proportionate, we’ve also encouraged officers to use their discretion when dealing with potential breaches of Covid-19 regulations.
“During times of increased restrictions, our experience has shown the overwhelming majority of people take their personal responsibility seriously and are sensible.
“Not everyone has shared this approach and where it’s been clear that people have blatantly broken the rules, officers have taken the appropriate action and issued fines.”