From Monday 28 September, police were granted extra powers, including self-isolation “spot checks” in high-risk areas based on “local intelligence” (neighbours reporting on each other), as new local lockdowns and more fines from £1000 to £10,000 come into force in England. For instance, you can now get a £10,000 fine for breaking self-isolation rules. The new rules are here and some explanation is set out in this thread.
On 30 September the government issued new restrictions for the north-east and north-west of England which effectively come down to local lockdowns. Banning gatherings of more than two households and… singing in groups of more than 2 in a “public house, café, restaurant or bar”.
On 28 September, after repeated encouragement from ministers (including Home Secretary Priti Patel) to inform on neighbours for alleged breaches of coronavirus rules, the government made it an offence with a £1000 fine for “falsely stating … that someone is a close contact of a person who has tested positive for coronavirus”, making it illegal to maliciously attempt to use the system to force an enemy into self-isolation.
As Netpol noted, this is almost a belated recognition that treating neighbours like the “enemy” isn’t the best way “to encourage community self-help, mutual aid and solidarity – all the values the public was praised for at the start of the lockdown”.
Since the introduction of huge fines for large gatherings, the NPCC says 20 fixed penalty notices have been issued for holding a gathering of more than thirty people. Since our last blog entry, these include a fine for a wedding celebration at a marquee on land on the outskirts of Leeds, another wedding venue in Shropshire, another in Manchester and a music event in Liverpool.
Two Police Scotland officers turned up at a 10-year-old girl’s birthday party after a neighbour reported the family for allegedly breaking coronavirus rules. Her mum is now on an “alert list”.
There were press reports of mounting pressure on the government to review its ‘shambolic’ 10pm curfew, which began on 24 September, after drinkers crowded onto streets at closing time. The Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) did not model the effect of a 10pm curfew, with key members saying that there was no evidence that it would be effective. In Glasgow city centre, a ‘street party’ after 10pm was dispersed by police and on the day after the curfew began, fireworks and bricks were thrown at police trying to disperse a gathering with around 500 people in Castleford in West Yorkshire.
On 24 September, a woman was fined £10,000 for taking part in an anti-lockdown protest in Norwich city centre. A further four people were arrested for alleged breaches of coronavirus regulations at an anti-lockdown protest in Newcastle city centre.
On Saturday 26 September, police in riot gear made 16 arrests as they cracked down on a much larger anti-lockdown protest in Trafalgar Square. This photo by AFP and a video of a woman knocked to the ground were widely circulated on social media:
This prompted one conservative website, which has previously called for the curbing of environmental and Black Lives Matter protests, to condemn the “shocking police attack on free speech“.
On 30 September, the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) released new figures on the policing of coronavirus regulations, which confirm that in total 18,912 fixed penalty notices were recorded as issued in England and Wales between Friday 27 March and Monday 21 September. A total of 179 were for localised restrictions in England, with 128 were issued in Greater Manchester, 26 in Lancashire and 25 in Leicester.
There were just 28 fines issued for failing to wear a face-covering in a relevant place, such as a retail setting. In the last week, it was reported that two people were fined by police for not wearing masks in a shop in Shrewsbury.
The NPCC has also confirmed that there has been mass non-payment of coronavirus fines, which is likely to place a further strain on the courts with potentially thousands of extra hearings. According to NPCC figures, a total of 8,441 (53%) have not paid in England and 972 (36%) have not paid in Wales.
However, on 30 September, MPs voted to extend the government’s coronavirus powers by 330 votes to 24, with many critics failing to vote. This decision was condemned by Liberty and by Big Brother Watch, who also complained that only 90 minutes had been allowed for the Coronavirus Act debate.
The Coronavirus Act is an attack on our liberties. MPs must seize this chance to scrap it, Martha Spurrier, The Guardian, 29 Sep 2020.
Covid-19: Will our right to protest ever be fully returned? Marco Peronlini, The New European, 29 Sep 2020.
Be warned: the Government is using the pandemic as an excuse to grab more power, Caroline Lucas, Metro, 30 Sep 2020.
Coronavirus Has Created A Crisis Of Over-Policing. Parliament Must Act Now – Before It’s Too Late,