New crackdown on illegal gatherings ahead of bank holiday weekend

A new criminal offence for people organising or facilitating unlawful gatherings, punishable by fines of up to £10,000, will come into force ahead of the bank holiday as authorities clamp down on the surge in unlicensed music events across the country.

Aug 24, 2020
By Tony Thompson
An unlicensed music event in London.

The tougher measures targeting the most serious breaches of social distancing restrictions will come into effect on Friday August 28 and apply to those facilitating or organising illegal raves, unlicensed music events, or any other unlawful gathering of 30 people or more.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “These gatherings are dangerous and those who organise them show a blatant disregard for the safety of others.

“I am pleased the police have already stepped up their response and I am giving them the tools they need to continue to keep us safe. We will continue to crack down on the small minority who think they are above the law.”

In London, the Metropolitan Police Service has responded to more than 1,000 unlicensed events since the end of June, receiving information on more than 200 events across the city in a single weekend.

Aside from the risk of spreading the virus, many events are linked to criminality and also turn violent. Last week two teenagers were stabbed at a warehouse rave in Borehamwood, Hertfordshire.

In Manchester a 27-year-old woman, said to be the organiser of large illegal gatherings over two consecutive evenings, was issued with a fine for £100 and given an anti-social behaviour banning order preventing anyone outside the household from entering the property.

The new measures come as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) warned police forces in England and Wales will continue to increase patrols to prevent illegal gatherings during the pandemic heading into the bank holiday weekend.

In areas of concern – such as Leicester and Greater Manchester – deployments have already been larger than on New Year’s Eve.

NPCC lead for unlicensed music events, Commander Ade Adelekan, said: “We welcome this further deterrent against those who irresponsibly put people’s health and safety at risk by organising these events. Unlicensed music events are unlawful and unregulated. These events are hosted without regard for the safety of those attending, and police have observed cases of anti-social behaviour, sales of drugs and gang activity.

“It is vital that forces obtain information about any illegal events at the earliest opportunity. As organisers are able to spread the word about these events quickly online, timely information about suspicious activity or plans enables forces to plan ahead and take effective action against them.

“To the organisers of this sort of activity, I strongly advise that you seriously consider the risks you’re creating for everyone in attendance and the wider community. There is a risk of prosecution for those who organise these events and equipment will be seized.”

Waheed Saleem, West Midlands deputy police and crime commissioner, welcomed the new police powers. He told BBC Breakfast he had accompanied officers breaking up illegal gatherings over the weekend including gatherings in homes, raves, wakes and weddings.

He said: “I think people think the virus isn’t out there or it’s not going to affect them and they can carry on enjoying themselves in these gatherings, which isn’t the case actually because these gatherings are not just breeding grounds for the virus, but also breeding grounds for criminality.”

“I welcome the increase in fines because I’ve been calling for these over the last couple of weeks because we’ve seen a steady increase in the number of these events across our patch.

“Although we could have done with these fines far earlier, I think these fines will act as a deterrent of people who are gathering, who are organising these illegal gatherings.

“We always try and engage and encourage and explain to people before we go into enforcement and so the majority of the public do listen, however there is a minority who don’t and a lot of people were also very annoyed that we are coming to break up these street parties.”

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