Long night for police trying to enforce Covid-19 restrictions

Police officers across the country spent a long night breaking up parties as revellers ignored warnings to ring in the New Year with members of their own household only.

Jan 1, 2021
By Website Editor
Officers from West Midlands Police were alerted to a number of gatherings on New Year's Eve.

Several forces recommended giving event organisers the maximum £10,000 fine as officers battled to get people to stick to the rules.

New restrictions, which came into effect at midnight on December 31, meant a total of 44 million people – 78 per cent of the population of England – saw in 2021 under the toughest Tier 4 measures.

The Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) said officers had broken up a music event in East London’s Royal Docks and reported the host to magistrates to be considered for the top penalty.

A number of house parties were also dispersed across the east of the capital.

MPS Barking and Dagenham tweeted just before 2am: “Officers have been attending a number of reported breaches house parties. Several Fines have been issued at various parties across East Area tonight for Covid Breaches.”

In all, the MPS was called to 58 unlicensed music events and parties across London and issued 217 fixed penalty notices (FPNs), with a further five people reported to magistrates for consideration for a £10,000 fine.

Four people were arrested for breaching Covid-19 regulations after gathering in central London.

Two males, aged 18 and 19, were stabbed during an incident in Edgeware Road in West London at around 12.30am, and a 17-year-old girl suffered a head injury when she was struck with a glass bottle.

Police believe the attack was linked to a larger gathering at a property in nearby Connaught Street that was dispersed by officers.

In Essex, officers issued more than £18,000 in fines to organisers of unlicensed music events, reporting that hundreds of people had turned up in breach of lockdown rules.

Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet thanked all those who had stayed home on what is traditionally one of the busiest nights of the year.

But he added: “Unfortunately, there were others who decided to blatantly flout the coronavirus rules and regulations and, ultimately, they decided that partying was more important than protecting other people.

“We’ve seized their equipment, arrested five people, and issued a large number of fines to those who think this behaviour is acceptable.”

Over the course of the night, Sussex Police issued a total of 81 FPNs – 66 in Brighton and Hove, nine in West Sussex and six in East Sussex.

Five of those were issued to a group in a car that had travelled from London, who claimed they were in Brighton to collect a takeaway.

“Our officers will shut breaches down and take enforcement action where necessary,” the force tweeted.

Leicestershire Police handed out 75 FPNs totalling almost £74,000 and received 191 reports of Covid-19 breaches between 7pm on New Year’s Eve and 7am on New Year’s Day.

Six of the fines were recommendations for the £10,000 fine for hosts of gatherings of more than 30 people.

Detective Chief Constable Terry Woods, of Lancashire Constabulary, said officers had dealt with “a steady stream of incidents” including shutting down a house party in Hyndburn.

He tweeted: “Some shockers tonight, eg, Hyndburn rural property with about 80 young people there @LancsPolice stopped it & organiser reported for £10k fine.”

At around 2.30am, he posted: “Demand now increasing – themes assaults, house party fights, sadly domestic abuse & people reaching crisis.

“I spent strike of midnight on foot with cops searching for a high risk missing person. Just resuming from assisting with the arrest of a violent drink driver – welcome to 2021!!”

Greater Manchester Police issued 105 FPNs for lockdown breaches.

The force said the majority were for house parties, but it also shut down a rave at the Empress Industrial Estate in Wigan, seizing DJ equipment, lighting and heaters.

West Midlands Police was also battling lockdown fatigue as 2020 drew to a close.

Chief Constable Dave Thompson posted: “Very grateful for time with @OSU_WMP. I am afraid some shocking Covid breaches with very large house parties. Well dealt with by the team. Always a pleasure to spend time with such professional officers.”

Officers in Brighton and Hove issued 66 fines overnight on New Year’s Eve but thanked the “vast majority” of people for staying at home.

These were among 81 FPNs issued by Sussex Police between 6pm on Thursday and 3am on Friday.

The fines ranged from outdoor gatherings of groups in public spaces, to private parties and people travelling from outside the area into the county.

Several were issued to groups gathering on Brighton beach in breach of the restrictions, although there was no large-scale event on the seafront, police said.

Five tickets were issued to a group stopped in a car from London who claimed they were in Brighton to collect a takeaway.

Merseyside Police put a dispersal zone on the Pier Head and other parts of Liverpool city centre between 7.30pm on New Year’s Eve and midday on January 1.

The order came just hours after a post was circulated on social media encouraging people to meet near the Liver Building for a party with the words “F*** Tier 3”, the Liverpool Echo reported.

Chief Inspector Peter Clark said: “Previous gatherings in Liverpool this year have involved several hundred people showing a lack of social distancing and also led to disorder earlier this year at the Pier Head.”

But he added: “The overwhelming majority of people in Merseyside have made huge sacrifices throughout this pandemic, to keep those most vulnerable safe and protect the NHS and other emergency services.”

Officers from Police Scotland dealt with revellers gathering at Edinburgh Castle to see in the New Year despite warnings to stay at home amid rising coronavirus cases.

The traditional street party and midnight fireworks in the city were cancelled, but some people still headed to the castle and Calton Hill to bring in the bells.

All of mainland Scotland is in the highest tier of Covid-19 restrictions, banning indoor visiting and more than six people from two households meeting outdoors.

The force warned people in advance against Hogmanay gatherings which could break current restrictions and potentially spread the virus further, while First Minister Nicola Sturgeon urged Scots to mark the end of 2020 at home.

A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “We were aware of gatherings at Edinburgh Castle and Calton Hill around midnight on Hogmanay.

“Officers safely engaged with those in attendance and explained the current Government regulations, resulting in the groups dispersing without incident.”

Last year’s Hogmanay street party had around 100,000 visitors, with live performances from Idlewild and Mark Ronson in Princes Street Gardens.

To mark the start of 2021, the organisers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay instead released ‘drone swarm’ videos.

The series of videos, titled Fare Well, featured a swarm of 150 illuminated drones which formed symbols and animals in a “beautiful ode to Scotland”.

Each video was narrated by actor David Tennant and included verses written by Scotland’s official poet, makar Jackie Kay.

While they appeared to be flying above landmarks like Edinburgh Castle, the drones were flown elsewhere before being edited into other footage.

The third and final of the Fare Well series was released on Thursday, after the initial video showed the drones in Highland landscapes.

Underbelly, the producers of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay, said it was the largest drone show ever produced in the UK.

The drones were flown in the Highlands before being “placed into shots separately filmed around Edinburgh” due to coronavirus restrictions, they said.

Director Charlie Wood said: “With 2020 being the year it has been, we want to ring out the old year and hurry in the new year, with a message of hope at a world-class event.

“Hope will be the universal message of the turn of the year, and ours will be no exception – Edinburgh’s Hogmanay’s mission is to sing it from the roof tops with a creatively-led and proudly Scottish celebration.

“We’re grateful to our creative team and to the City of Edinburgh Council, EventScotland, the Scottish Government and Creative Scotland who have supported us to create a unique and special moment for people around the world.”

While there were no midnight fireworks at Edinburgh Castle, a display was held at the Wallace Monument in Stirling.

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