Netpol has launched a campaign calling on the National Police Chiefs Council to end to the labelling of campaigners as “domestic extremists” before the current lockdown is over. In an open letter that is gathering signatories, the organisation says that “when we finally emerge from lockdown, it is inevitable campaigners will demand real changes to the way many of society’s problems are prioritised… Our fear is that campaigners will likely find themselves, once again, labelled as ‘extremists’ and become the renewed target for intensive surveillance by Britain’s political policing units”.
A breakdown from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) of the latest data on fines issued for alleged breached of coronavirus legislation, for the period from 27 March to 27 April 2020, shows that out of 8877 fines, the forces who have issued the most include Thames Valley (649), Metropolitan Police (634), Lancashire (633), Devon & Cornwall (510), West Yorkshire (460) and North Yorkshire (458).
There have been a number of significant revisions on earlier inaccurate numbers of fines up to 13 April, with the Metropolitan Police’s revised figures leaping from 82 fines to 431. Lancashire was also under-reported, with its numbers for the first eighteen days increasing from 380 to 469.
It was reported that Wiltshire Police has withdrawn two of the 130 fines it has issued over concerns they were either disproportionate or unlawful. Netpol commented that across the country, there are almost certainly many more like this and advised people to “make sure you appeal if you are unhappy”.
As Penelope Gibbs from Transform Justice highlighted, what is missing is an indication of the numbers of fines based on the size of the population in each police area. Police in Lancashire covers a population of around 1.5 million, whilst Devon & Cornwall covers 1.65 million and Thames Valley covers 2.1 million. However, Essex Police covers 1.72 million people and has issued only 111 fines, whilst the population covered by policing in Norfolk is 859,400 and yet it has issued more than double (227) this number of fines.
This also applies to demographic data on ethnicity. The NPCC says that overall, 58% of fines in England were issued to those self-identifying as white, 10% as Asian, 4% Black and 2% mixed-race, with 25% not self-identifying their ethnicity. This is broadly in line with the 2011 census breakdown, but both Black and Asian communities are concentrated within a small number of urban police areas and over 1 million of the 1.8 million people self-identifying as Black British are covered by the Metropolitan Police. The issue of proportionality is therefore hard to judge without a force-by-force comparison.
Demographically, the NPCC says 82% of fines in England were given to men and 15% cent to women, with three per cent unknown. 36% were issued to those aged 18-24.
On Saturday, it was reported that the Crown Prosecution Service plans to review every charge brought under new emergency coronavirus laws after wrongful convictions were highlighted. The CPS has said this is the first time it has reviewed every charge under a specific piece of legislation.
Meanwhile, stories about the misuse of police powers have continued. It was reported that a personal assistant working for a disabled person was forced to pay fines by the police.
Avon and Somerset Police has received more than 10,000 reports from people denouncing their neighbours for alleged breaches of lockdown regulations. (Yesterday we reported that the total of such calls the police have received was 194,000, according to the NPCC.)
Jennifer Collins on the UK Constitutional Law Association blog challenges a punitive narrative which celebrates sending those convicted of coronavirus crimes to prisons where Covid-19 has the potential to be rampant.