Fines for breaking Covid rules: Police vow tougher crackdown in London

6 January 2021, 08:59 | Updated: 6 January 2021, 15:56

By Asher McShane

The Metropolitan Police today issued a warning to Londoners who breach lockdown rules that they are increasingly likely to face fines - including for not wearing masks when they should be.

Scotland Yard has changed its stance on enforcing Covid-19 regulations, announcing that from today officers will be issuing fines more quickly for clear breaches of the rules.

People attending parties, unlicensed music events or large illegal gatherings, can expect to be fined as well as the organisers, police said.

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Those not wearing masks where they should be and without good reason can also expect to be fined.

Police said people not wearing masks when they should be would no longer be "reasoned with".

Londoners can expect police to be more "inquisitive" if they are out and about.

"Where officers identify people without a lawful reason to be away from home they can expect officers to move more quickly to enforcement," Scotland Yard said in a statement today.

Sir Peter Fahey, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, told LBC’s Shelagh Fogarty that "the problem is that the lockdown keeps on changing, and it’s a real challenge for police forces to make sure that police officers understand what the legislation says and what the exemptions are."

Asked whether the police had focused too much on encouragement rather than enforcement, Sir Peter said: “I think overall the police have got the balance right, and as you know, they’re often stuck in the middle.

“In the early days of the first lockdown, they were severely criticised for the use of drones and other tactics that some of the public thought were heavy handed.

“I think the problem is that the lockdown keeps on changing, and it’s a real challenge for police forces to make sure that police officers understand what the legislation says and what the exemptions are.

“We still have this gap between what ministers announce, what is in guidance and what is in the legislation.

“So practically there are real operational problems for the police.

“They have really concentrated on the larger gatherings, the clear anti-social behaviour, the house parties, the organised events.

“I think what the Met’s statement is saying is it will continue to concentrate on those sorts of incidents, but make more use of the fines, and particularly go after people who are attending those events, not just organising them.”

Discussing the enforcement of mask wearing, Sir Peter said: “On public transport, particularly the railways, there is the British Transport Police, who have a narrower remit and can enforce this.

“I think the frustration of the police is that a lot of the shops and supermarkets are private property – they could refuse entry to people who are not wearing masks.

“They’re employing security guards and I think a lot of us feel that certainly in some supermarkets, there appears to be no enforcement of the rules, even in terms of the number of people going in.

“As I say, this lockdown is actually different from the first lockdown – there are more and more exemptions.

“That makes it harder for the public to understand it but also for the officers to understand it.

“For some of them, last week they were learning what Tier 3 meant, because their area had changed, and suddenly on Monday night it changed again.

Sir Peter continued: “So we know that unfortunately quite a lot of the fines are not being paid, there was a report last week about how a lot of the prosecutions have failed because the wrong offences have been charged.

“The police are trying to do their best but this legislation was rushed in, it keeps on changing, they’ve not been properly consulted, they’ve not had the time to properly train on it.

“So I can understand some of the frustrations of the public but I think the police are trying to get the balance right, and are faced with real practical difficulties.”

Met Deputy Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist, who leads the Met’s response to the Covid pandemic, said: “After ten months of this pandemic the number of people who are genuinely not aware of the restrictions and the reasons they are in place is vanishingly small.

“We know the overwhelming majority of Londoners will do the right thing by staying at home, wearing masks and not gathering, but a small minority continue to ignore rules put in place to protect the NHS and save lives.

“Our first duty as police officers is to preserve life. The critical situation our NHS colleagues are facing and the way the new virus variant moves through communities, means we can no longer spend our time explaining or encouraging people to follow rules where they are wilfully and dangerously breaching."

Yesterday police said they broke up a rave in a warehouse with 150 people present.

Metropolitan Police officers were called to Crowthorne Road in Kensington in the early hours of December 30, where they found a number of parked cars and music coming from inside a warehouse.

Police said a 43-year-old was arrested under Covid regulations for organising the illegal gathering and is being considered for a £10,000 fine.