James O'Brien 10am - 1pm
LBC goes undercover at illegal rave in Essex as police fail to shut it down
1 September 2020, 13:58 | Updated: 1 September 2020, 15:11
Essex Police failed to shut down an illegal rave over the bank holiday weekend, in spite of it clearly being in breach of coronavirus guidelines and the law.
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.”
LBC was invited to the next event to check whether lessons had been learned. We would certainly hope it is an improvement on what we witnessed on Sunday.
We showed our footage to Russell Fortt, a barrister at 5 Essex Court Chambers and an expert in police law.
He told us: “The fact that it’s a licensed event isn’t in itself the end of the matter, because if it’s apparent to anybody, in particular a law enforcement official that the event is not being run in accordance with reasonable measures following the government guidance, then it is not, despite it being licensed, a lawful event.”
As to whether the new rules on fines might have applied, Mr Fortt said it would require a proper investigation, but that “on the face of it, from certainly the limited clips that I’ve seen it does not appear to be in any way compliant with the obligations of an organiser and to that extent they would be in breach of the regulations and liable to a fine.”
And yet, no action was taken. No fines were issued.
It seems pertinent to ask whether this particular incident really lives up to the Home Secretary's assertion last week that "We will not allow this breathtakingly selfish behaviour from a senseless minority to jeopardise the progress we have made together."