Thousands hit with Covid fines across Shropshire during pandemic

Thousands of people in the county have been fined for breaches of Covid rules – with three £10,000 penalties handed out – since the start of the pandemic.

Police have handed out thousands of fines for breaches of Covid rules since the start of the pandemic
Police have handed out thousands of fines for breaches of Covid rules since the start of the pandemic

The figures were released as human rights campaigners claim communities have been subjected to disproportionate and harmful policing while staff at Number 10 have been "attending drinks parties".

Figures published by the National Police Chiefs' Council show 2,674 fixed penalty notices were issued by West Mercia Police between March 27, 2020, and December 19 last year.

Of those, just eight were recorded from May 17, 2021, when different households were allowed to mix indoors for the first time following several months of lockdown.

By comparison, some forces issued hundreds of fines over this period.

West Mercia has however been one of the most active in issuing fines over breaches of face-mask wearing regulations. At one point it had given out the most fines for the offence across the entire country. The latest figures show 341 people were hit with fixed penalties for the offence.

In December 2020 Telford Police also issued two £10,000 fines for breaches of Covid regulations.

One went to a pub, with police at the time saying it was after the venue "allowed households to mix".

A statement from the force said: "Two tables in the venue were found to be made up of people from different households. Individual fines were issued to the people on both tables."

Another went to the organiser of a "gathering" with 50 people in an industrial unit at Dawley Bank, while a venue in Stafford Park was also hit with a £10,000 fine after hosting wedding guests in September 2020.

In Dyfed Powys 2,160 fines were handed out from the start of the pandemic to December 19 last year – and similar to West Mercia only eight from May 17, 2021.

FPNs can be rescinded following a review or cancelled altogether if multiple were issued in error, leading to some areas seeing a fall in the number of fines over time.

Across England and Wales, 124,581 fines have been issued by the 43 territorial police forces, British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence for alleged breaches of Covid-19-related laws since the pandemic began.

Liberty said the Government has given the police "blunt and coercive powers to enforce lockdowns", when it should have been prioritising public health.

Jun Pang, policy and campaigns officer at the organisation, said: "Throughout the pandemic we have seen over-zealous policing and chaotic communications, leaving people confused and fearful of prosecution.

“The discrepancies in these regional figures show that the restrictions were unclear, leaving it up to local police forces to interpret the law. Clearly, this opened the door to inconsistency and discrimination."

The Government has recently come under fire following a series of reports on parties and large gatherings at Number 10 Downing Street while the rest of the UK was under restrictions.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has already apologised after it emerged his principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, invited more than 100 members of staff to a “bring your own booze” party in the No 10 garden in May 2020 during the first lockdown.

Of the FPNs issued across England and Wales so far, 377 were for holding a gathering of more than 30 people – with two in West Mercia.

Ms Pang added: "Now we know that while some communities were being subjected to disproportionate and harmful policing and locked out of support, those in power were attending drinks parties at Number 10.

"This is typical of a Government that sees itself as above the law – and that is currently pushing through various pieces of legislation to make itself untouchable.”

An NPCC spokesman said all forces have first sought to engage and explain Covid laws to people, and only enforce them when necessary.

Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill, NPCC lead for Operation Talla, the police response to the pandemic, said there are still some restrictions – such as the use of face coverings and self-isolation rules – in place for good reason.

He added: “We have observed very high compliance by the public.

"Officers have very rarely had to use their powers in recent months, only enforcing where there are clear breaches of the rules or people haven't responded to explanation and encouragement.”

A West Mercia Police spokesperson added: “West Mercia Police has, together with other forces, followed the four Es approach to policing the coronavirus regulations of Engage, Explain, Encourage and where necessary Enforce.”

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