Police fined more than 800 people for breach of Covid rules in week of Downing Street party

Figures released as Scotland Yard contacts Cabinet Office over alleged breach of coronavirus laws

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Editor
Tuesday 11 January 2022 18:55
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Police handed out more than 800 fines to people accused of breaking coronavirus laws in the week of Downing Street’s “bring your own booze” garden party, figures show.

Restrictions on social gatherings were eased a week before the drinks event on 20 May 2020, but still only allowed outdoor mixing with one member of another household, and in public open spaces rather than private gardens.

In the week between 15 and 21 May 2020, police handed out 807 fixed penalty notices under Covid laws in England and Wales, data from the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) shows.

At the time, the default fine for breaking the law had been recently raised from £60 to £100, rising to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offences.

A government document setting out its Covid-19 recovery strategy for England said the higher fines “reflect the increased risk to others of breaking the rules as people are returning to work and school”.

There was no formal appeal mechanism in place, meaning anyone wanting to contest a fine had to risk prosecution by refusing to pay. Ministers have ignored calls to review fines or change the process.

A third of the coronavirus prosecutions reviewed have been found to be unlawful, and the government has refused to act on calls from parliamentary committees to prevent further miscarriages of justice.

Several people were fined £1,100 each for illegal gatherings held on the same dates as Downing Street’s separate Christmas party and quiz in December 2020.

At least three women, all aged in their 20s, were fined £1,100 each after attending house parties on the same day as the 18 December 2020 Downing Street Christmas party.

People were prosecuted and fined up to £1,100 for illegal gatherings on the same day as Downing Street’s Christmas quiz last year, it can be revealed.

The events, and the garden party on 20 May 2020, are being examined alongside by senior official Sue Gray.

A leaked email, sent by Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary to more than 100 people, said: “Hi all, after what has been an incredibly busy period we thought it would be nice to make the most of the lovely weather and have some socially distanced drinks in the No 10 garden this evening. Please join us from 6pm and bring your own booze!”

How has Boris Johnson responded to party claims so far?

Scotland Yard has said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office about the allegations, but has previously refused to investigate potential Covid offences that officers did not witness at the time.

The Metropolitan Police had tweeted a video on the day of the “bring your own booze” event, telling people they could have a picnic, exercise or do sport outside providing you are “on your own, with people you live with, or just you and one other person”.

Then-culture secretary Oliver Dowden used a Downing Street press conference that day to remind the public they could “meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place, provided that you stay two metres apart”.

New figures published by the NPCC on Tuesday show that almost 119,000 Covid fines have been given out in England and Wales since March 2020.

Assistant chief constable Owen Weatherill, who leads the police response to coronavirus, said: “There are still some restrictions in place for very good reason, such as for use of face coverings and self-isolation. Everyone should be mindful of others when out and about, following public health guidance in place for everyone’s safety – this virus is still spreading fast and is still leading to tragic loss of life.

“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.”

Additional reporting by PA

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