Number of face mask fines issued by police in England revealed

26 August 2020, 08:59

The regulations were made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, with a maximum fine of £100, which will be reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days.
The regulations were made under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, with a maximum fine of £100, which will be reduced to £50 if it is paid within 14 days. Picture: Getty
Matthew Thompson

By Matthew Thompson

New rules on the wearing of face masks in public are simply not being enforced by police, LBC has learned.

It has been just over a month since face coverings became compulsory in shops and other public spaces in England. Not wearing one means you could be fined £100. At least in theory.

LBC asked all the police forces in England how many so-called “fixed penalty notices” they had issued in the first month since the rules came into force. Of the 19 forces that responded, all but three said they had issued none at all.

Read more: Officers won't be 'doling out fines' if people don't wear masks in shops

Of the three that did issue a FPN, one force, Lincolnshire Police, had issued just one, Lancashire had issued two, and the most, by West Midlands Police, was a mere three. So there were a total of six fines from 19 police forces.

The UK's largest police force, London's Metropolitan Police, said they had issued none.

Read more: Face coverings: Everything you need to know about new masks rules

That may come as a surprise, considering that a short time after the new rules came into force last month, Boris Johnson himself stood at the podium in Downing Street, and ordered police to step up their enforcement. He said he had asked the Home Secretary Priti Patel, “to work with the police and others to ensure the rules which are already in place are properly enforced.”

But our findings would suggest that has not been happening. Far from it.

When the rules themselves were introduced, a number of Chief Constables said it was simply impossible to enforce them, and that they would not be routinely attending shops unless there was a crime or a disturbance.

Read more: Supermarkets and shops refuse to enforce new face-coverings rule

Speaking to LBC last month, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Dame Cressida Dick suggested that enforcement would be a “last resort”.

"Calling the police should be a last resort for dealing with a mask issue,” she said. “But the law is a law.”

"If you've tried everything and you can't get the person out of the store and they're getting aggressive, yes of course you should call the police.

And when we asked, many forces told us they had been encouraging people to wear masks where appropriate, but had stopped short of enforcing the rules.

Derbyshire's Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa told LBC, that police will "play our part" against anybody who is flouting the law.

But, the Commissioner said his force received just 11 calls over people not wearing face coverings over a one week period.

He told Nick Ferrari that his force had been able to use powers of engagement, explain and encourage to ensure people had put on masks, meaning fines were not needed.

Derbyshire Police is one of the forces that issued zero fines.

Read more: Face-coverings: What are the new rules about masks in shops? Everything you need to know

There are legitimate questions as to whether valuable police time should be spent chasing people around Tescos for not wearing a mask. And the likes of the Police Federation have said they'd like to see more enforcement from shop owners.

But nonetheless, it remains the case that in principle, not wearing a mask carries a hefty fine, but in practice, barely at all.