James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
Illegal rave concerns amid rising Covid-19 cases in Leeds
5 September 2020, 12:43
Seven £10,000 fines have been issued to illegal rave organisers in Leeds, the city's council leader has said.
Judith Blake said she had "fully expected" the city to be placed on the Government's coronavirus watchlist following a recent rise in cases.
And she urged young people to "recognise their own responsibility" in controlling the spread of the virus following reports of an increase in house parties in the city.
Ms Blake said: "We have been monitoring our number every single day and we recognise that the numbers have been creeping up, so we fully expected to be on the list to become an area of concern.
"We feel there is a bit of a complacency coming in. What we are seeing is the numbers are changing, and actually more young people are testing positive and they are spread around the city.
"So whereas we were focusing more on specific communities at the beginning, it is now clear the pattern is changing."
Leeds, along with South Tyneside, Corby, Middlesbrough and Kettering, have been placed on the Government's "areas of concern" watchlist following a spike in Covid-19 cases.
Ms Blake said the council was working closely with the city's universities ahead of students returning, adding that additional testing was being considered.
She said the council was also urging young people to "recognise their own responsibility" in helping to reduce the spread of the virus.
"Unfortunately we have seen a rise in house parties, but we are working with police," Ms Blake said.
"Last weekend we issued, with the police, seven of the £10,000 fines for organisers of illegal raves."
While organisers can be hit with £10,000 fines, people not wearing masks and participants in unlawful gatherings can be fined starting at £100, doubling for each repeat offence up to a maximum of £3,200.
Illegal raves have become a problem in lockdown, with police upping the maximum fine for anyone found to be organising one.
To expose the growing problem of illegal parties during coronavirus, LBC went undercover to an event at a truck stop off the M25 on Sunday.
Within 10 minutes of arriving, our reporter was offered drugs. Ecstasy, cocaine, ketamine and nitrous oxide were all being consumed with abandon by revellers.
There were perhaps 150 people present, none of whom were wearing masks, or adhering to any social distancing guidelines.
Several partygoers told our reporter they didn’t care about the virus, or thought it was all a hoax.
Police eventually arrived on the scene at around 6pm, when the party had already been going for 4 hours.
Organisers immediately turned down the music, and asked everybody to socially distance and pretend they were in household groups.
The police stayed for perhaps 20 minutes and then left, although a police car remained parked at the entrance to the truck stop for perhaps an hour.
The music was eventually switched back on, and the rave resumed.
When our reporter left just before 9pm, even more people had arrived and the party was back in full swing.
We asked Essex Police why they had not taken any action to stop the illegal event, and whether they had issued any fines under new rules that allow police to fine organisers up to £10,000.
They told us: “We attended and spoke to the event organiser, who provided us with documentation confirming a licensed event had been granted until 11pm that day.
"Our officers gave them words advice regarding social distancing requirements and we continued to monitor the situation.”
LBC spoke on condition of anonymity to one of the organisers. They said it was “disrespectful” of LBC to call the event illegal, as they have a license.
“We’re not criminals. Yesterday Essex Police came, they were very helpful. They even gave us a bit of a hand where they saw that we could improve things, and they were happy for us to continue.”
When it was put to him that the licensing wasn’t the issue, it was the fact that the gathering was in flagrant breach of coronavirus regulations that made it unlawful, he replied: “What would you like us to do? Maybe some people at times weren’t socially distancing. I mean that’s going on everywhere. We’re not saying it’s right but we’re trying to tackle it.”