The issuing of fixed penalty notices all over the country has ground relentlessly on over the last week. In Tyneside, police fined 12 members of a football team who told bar staff they were single household. Police broke up a student house party in Exeter on 24 October and in south-east London, the Metropolitan Police shut down a “secret wedding” with 250 guests. Six people from different households were fined at a house party in Runcorn after they were reported to the police by neighbours.
There have also been many reports of the issuing of higher-level fines. A house party with 40 people in Mansfield was shut down and the organiser was fined £10,000. It was reported that Cambridgeshire Police handed out two separate £10,000 fines to organisers of house parties in Peterborough. In Bristol, police are warning of a “crackdown” in the remaining months of 2020 and a club was fined for having 80 people inside after the 10pm curfew. Four students at the University of Nottingham, who we reported last month were threatened with potential enforcement action, have now each been given £10,000 fines.
The parties aside, in many of these instances people receiving fines said they did not understand the regulations. This is perhaps unsurprising as in evidence to MPs, the senior officer leading the national police response to the coronavirus pandemic, Owen Weatherill, said he too did not know the lockdown rules and that the three-tier system is too confusing. Currently, each Tier is around 12,000 words of text, a mixture of micro-management of everyday lives and unresolvable ambiguity, although the minister for crime and policing, Kit Malthouse, recommended people go online to look up the measures and said everyone has an “individual duty towards” collective public health.
Over the last week, the government was already ‘considering Tier 4 local lockdowns‘, if the current system does not make a difference by mid-November. Tier 3 is still substantially lower level of lockdown than the 26 March regulations and Scotland has introduced a five-tier alert system.
On 24 October, there were 18 arrests made at the latest anti-lockdown protest in central London and at around 6pm the protesters were dispersed in the “interests of public safety”, according to a statement by the police. The day before, at Westminster Magistrates Court, lawyers for the prominent opponent of lockdown restrictions, Piers Corbyn, argued he had been “specifically targeted” by police. He was due to stand trial on Friday but late disclosure of police logbooks has delayed proceedings until 27 November.
Meanwhile, there were indications on social media that the organisers of a planned demonstration at the Polish Embassy in London, about the new abortion laws introduced in Poland, were leaned on heavily by police and initially cancelled the protest, although hundreds of people turned up anyway.
Over the weekend, the start of a two-week “firebreak” lockdown in Wales, Gwent Police reportedly stopped more than 500 vehicles and have been carrying out ”essential journey” spot-checks on trains. Police in neighbouring Gloucestershire, who have no power to stop people travelling to Wales, are informing their Welsh colleagues across the border who are able to issue fines. Gloucestershire has also seen the return of residents reporting concerns about tourists and a subsequent increase in the number of patrols in rural areas, which were common back in April. Police in North Yorkshire are once again urging outsiders not to visit during half-term
It has been reported that children going out “trick or treating” has been banned in Devon and Cornwall because of coronavirus (although not in Essex). Cornwall is also where 10 young adults were harassed playing beach volleyball by marshalls in Falmouth.
Meanwhile, recruitment firms have begun advertising for “Covid Marshals” around the country and as this example from Bedford shows, part of the role is “capturing and reporting evidence and intelligence of non-compliance” and “acting as ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground”. In Bedfordshire, there has already been a report in the last week of “fake covid marshalls” trying to get into a resident’s home to supposedly investigate breaches of the regulations.
On 22 October the Lords debated the Health Protection (Self-Isolation) Regulations – three weeks after they came into law. Big Brother Watch sent peers a briefing on these regulations – which could see people fined life-changing amounts for failing to follow convoluted rules, saying: “rather than ensuring that people have the local care and financial support they need to self-isolate, the Government is relying on punitive fines to compel compliance.”
New book out 29 October: Alan Green, Emergency Powers in a Time of Pandemic.