Coronavirus: All lockdown fines ‘should be reviewed’ – MPs group


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Police chiefs are being urged to review every lockdown fine issued in England and Wales amid concerns about “discriminatory” enforcement.

A group of MPs back the call, over fears the chances of a fine depend on where you live and that black and Asian people are disproportionately targeted.

The group has written to the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) to demand a national review of fines.

The NPCC said the group’s demands would be “properly considered”.

Silkie Carlo, director of campaign group Big Brother Watch, which organised the letter, said: “We’ve identified an outbreak of inconsistent, heavy-handed and sometimes incompetent policing.

“These draconian powers have been used unlawfully time and time again and there’s no justice for the thousands of people we estimate have been wrongly penalised with fines.”

Cummings case

The letter is signed by Rev Martin Poole, the Brighton vicar who in May called on the government to refund all fines imposed on families travelling for childcare, after the story about No 10 aide Dominic Cummings travelling to north-east England during lockdown emerged.

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Image caption

Rev Martin Poole quizzed the health secretary on lockdown fines

Rev Poole, a member of the public selected to put a question to Matt Hancock at the daily coronavirus press conference, was told by the health secretary that he would raise the issue with Treasury colleagues.

Downing Street later ruled out a formal review of such fines.

Rev Poole said: “My aim with the question at the daily press briefing on 27 May was to highlight potential inequality in the way lockdown regulations were being implemented and this appears to be borne out in the statistics outlined by Big Brother Watch.”

Forty MPs and peers are also backing the call for a review of fines, including senior Tory Andrew Mitchell, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and acting Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey – as well as 13 campaign groups including Amnesty International and Liberty.

The NPCC has previously resisted calls to carry out a national review of fines, saying it is best left to individual police forces to identify and correct mistakes.

‘Postcode lottery’

A total of 18,439 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) including 15,856 in England and 2,583 in Wales were recorded by forces between 27 March and 22 June, according to provisional NPCC data.

North Yorkshire Police has issued the most fines so far (1,122), followed by the Metropolitan Police (1,072) and Devon and Cornwall (978) compared to just 42 in Staffordshire and 58 in Warwickshire.

But Big Brother Watch says fines issued under the lockdown regulations have not been reviewed and can only be appealed by risking prosecution in a magistrates court.

Confusion over lockdown enforcement

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Analysis by BBC political researcher Sebastien Ash

The lockdown was introduced in March to respond to the accelerating coronavirus pandemic in the UK.

To enforce it, police were given the power to issue fines to those who broke the new laws the government introduced.

But the speed with which these were introduced caused confusion and questions were raised about proportionate policing of the lockdown.

The letter of the law permits individuals to gather in groups or travel so long as they have a “reasonable” excuse.

The list is not exhaustive, but includes clear examples like taking exercise or to provide care to a vulnerable person.

Meanwhile the government guidance in the initial phase was to “stay at home”.

Research conducted by BBC News found examples of fines that were issued under questionable circumstances.

Police records show that individuals were fined for visiting a sick relative in a neighbouring county and taking photography of “flowers and shrubbery” with a long-lens camera.

There is no direct appeal process for a lockdown fine.

Big Brother Watch says there is evidence of a “remarkable” inconsistency in the way police forces apply the rules, making it effectively a “postcode lottery”.

It also claims in its letter that there is “evidence of racism, discrimination and bias”.

The group highlights research by Liberty, which suggests 18 out of the 25 forces who supplied ethnicity data found statistically significant differences between fines issued to black and minority ethnic people, and white people.

‘Shocked’

The NPCC is preparing to publish data next month from all 43 constabularies in England and Wales on the ethnicity of those fined for breaking lockdown rules.

Labour’s Yvette Cooper, chair of the Commons Home Affairs committee, said last week she was “shocked” that the process was taking so long.

NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt told the committee: “I think it is really important that data is contextualised.

“Ultimately each force has to account for the way that they ran the operation through the pandemic.”

He added: “The data also identifies that a number of people that received tickets were not people who were actually resident in that force area and therefore we have to do the analysis, I think, properly.”



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