Latest figures suggest only a fraction of the £10,000 lockdown fines issued last year have actually been paid, with dozens more being challenged or ignored.
Between August and December 20th last year, police in England issued 196 of the fines with just two handed out in Wales. The fines were given to organisers of gatherings of more than 30 people including raves, parties and protests.
Of those 196 fines issued in England, only five have been paid according to snapshot figures. 53 are being formally contested, 42 have been ignored and 96 still have time left to pay in the 28-day payment period.
The data from Acro the criminal records office was given to the National Police Chief’s Council (NPCC). Figures released late in the month by the PA news agency via Acro showed that 76 of the 198 fines issued in England and Wales were being contested.
Legal and policy officer for Big Brother Watch, Madeleine Stone, called unpaid lockdown fines ‘a prosecution crisis waiting to happen’.
She said: “These life-changing fines are a draconian and ineffective response to the pandemic.”
Rosalind Comyn, policy and campaigns manager at Liberty, said: “The creation of £10,000 fines was completely disproportionate and only serves to punish people financially at a time of great economic uncertainty.
“For many people this fine is impossible to pay, and so this tactic just widens the number of people at risk of being criminalised.”
Human rights barrister, Kirsty Brimelow QC said: “The majority of people cannot afford to pay a £10,000 fine. People are being set up to fail by the issuing of these notices.”
Police warned the government in November over the super-fines, as those who paid within the 28 day period could face a larger bill than those who fought the penalty in court.
Initially, officers were told to stop issuing penalties, however it was later agreed that those issued with a £10,000 fine were to be made fully aware of their right to fight it in court.
Senior officers are said to be not surprised by the proportion of fines being contested due to the sheer size of the fine.
An NPCC spokesperson said: “Police use a 4Es approach of engaging with the public, explaining the rules, and encouraging compliance with them.
“Large gatherings should not be happening in the current circumstances and the regulations in place for everyone’s safety are absolutely clear on that.
“Those who organise large gatherings know they are breaking the law and putting others at risk.
“Officers will only issue a fine as a last resort, but will not waste time with endless encouragement where there is a clear and egregious breach of the rules, such as for these large gatherings.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The majority of the public are continuing to play their part to control this terrible virus by staying at home – it is shameful that a small minority continue to flout the law and it’s right we have a strong deterrent for those who put us at risk by ignoring the rules.
“Those who refuse to pay fixed penalty notices may face court action and a possible criminal record.
“We have given police the appropriate guidance to ensure they can charge offences correctly, and rigorously enforce the law, which is why we have made £60 million of extra funding available to police and local authorities.”
Latest figures show that a total of 250 fines were issued in England and Wales up to January 17th.
In the past month, they include fines to a funeral director over a service attended by 150 in Welwyn Garden City, organisers of a mass snowball fight in Leeds and organisers of a wedding attended by around 150 people in north London.
Around 20 people involved in mass brawl ‘with knives’ in Piccadilly Gardens
The violence spilled out into the street
A large group of people were involved in a mass fight ‘with knives’ in Piccadilly Gardens last night.
Around 20 people were caught up in the large brawl on Monday evening, and according to reports some were armed with knives.
The fight took place outside Morrisons on the end of Oldham Street, and happened around 9:30pm.
Witnesses reported seeing some of the suspects carrying knives, although police didn’t recover any from the scene, and busses were forced to stop as the violence spread out onto the road.
Someone who witnessed the fight said on Twitter: “Piccadilly gardens is the roughest place on earth… a lovely night out helping ruined by a group of young kids kicking each others faces in”.
Officers responded to the incident, but no arrests were made or serious injuries reported.
This incident was the third of serious violence in just a few days.
Saturday afternoon saw another incident outside Morrisons in Piccadilly Gardens, in which a man was slashed in the face.
And on Sunday a brawl involving two tables at Barca bar in Castlefield happened, with some involved arming themselves with weapons like bar furniture and a baseball bat.
Leading scientists call for end of face masks and social distancing by June
Do you agree?
Leading scientists have written to the UK government calling for social distancing and face masks to be scrapped from June.
In total 22 scientists have signed the communication, saying that these measures should finish on June 22nd – the same date limits on social contact are set to be scrapped in England.
One of the scientists who has added their name to the letter is Dr Roland Salmon, the former director of the communicable disease centre in Wales.
Dr Salmon told BBC Radio Wales: “I am not venting my frustration but I do think some dialogue is well overdue.
“I have always felt that there has been little credible evidence benefit for many of the measures that we take.”
According to him, the letter was written to encourage the government to focus on protecting vulnerable people rather than the masses as we move forward.
Dr Salmon said we need to deal with the ‘here and now’ when asked about the threat of variants, going on to add that the vaccine has shown it helps prevent severe disease and death.
He added: “We can’t stop living forever while we wait for things to happen”.
Scientists who’ve signed the letter include Prof Robert Dingwall from Nottingham Trent University, who sits on the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (NERVTAG).
There’s also Prof Anthony Brookes, a geneticist and health data scientist at the University of Leicester, and Prof Carl Heneghan, director of the Centre for Evidence Based Medicine at Oxford University.
The letter reads: “We are being told simultaneously that we have successful vaccines and that major restrictions on everyday life must continue indefinitely. Both propositions cannot be true.
“We need to give more weight to the data on the actual success of the vaccines and less to theoretical risks of vaccine escape and/or surge in a largely vaccinated population.”
It continues: “Covid-19 no longer requires exceptional measures of control in everyday life, especially where there have been no evaluations and little credible evidence of benefit.
“Measures to reduce or discourage social interaction are extremely damaging to the mental health of citizens; to the education of children and young people; to people with disabilities; to new entrants to the workforce; and to the spontaneous personal connections from which innovation and enterprise emerge.”
Boris Johnson is regarded as ‘untrustworthy’ by six out of 10 voters
It follows weeks of allegations against the PM
According to a new poll Boris Johnson is seen as ‘untrustworthy’ by six out of 10 voters in Britain, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer seen as more trustworthy.
The poll from Ipsos MORI was shared by the Evening Standard, and comes after weeks of leaks and allegations about sleaze aimed at the prime minister.
The research found that Mr Johnson is trusted by just 35% of voters and deemed untrustworthy by 59%, while Sir Keir is seen as trustworthy by 42% and is untrusted by 41%.
Gideon Skinner, head of political research at Ipsos MORI, said: “On honesty Boris Johnson is clearly trumped by Keir Starmer, so this is an area of potential risk for him.
“However, his own supporters still trust him, and the public overall have never seen it as one of his strongest attributes … and as previous leaders such as Tony Blair have shown, you don’t have to be ahead on trust to win elections.
“The key question is whether and if these stories continue and start to change the public’s overall view on him as PM.”
The poll was taken following weeks of reports about murky donations being used to refurbish the prime minister’s flat, as well as disclosures about covert lobbying.
However, it was undertaken before the most recent allegations that Mr Johnson said he’d rather see ‘bodies pile high’ than have another lockdown, so those reports won’t have been taken into consideration by those polled.
Despite all the recent controversy, the prime minister and government’s net satisfaction hasn’t changed much since March, with both Mr Johnson (44 satisfied/50 dissatisfied) and Sir Keir (36/46) having net negative ratings.
Ipsos MORI interviewed 1090 adults across the UK by telephone from April 16th to the 22nd – you can find full details here.