NPCC welcomes tougher fines in crackdown on illegal gatherings

The National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) has welcomed the Government’s crackdown on “irresponsible and totally unacceptable” house parties and large gatherings.

Jan 22, 2021
By Paul Jacques
Martin Hewitt – National Police Chiefs’ Council chair. Picture: PA

Home Secretary Priti Patel announced yesterday (January 21) that tougher measures will be introduced from next week, with those who attend illegal gatherings in homes facing an £800 fine – doubling after each offence up to a maximum of £6,400 for repeat offenders.

The new fines will apply to those who attend unlawful gatherings in homes of more than 15 people.

Speaking at a Downing Street press conference, Ms Patel and NPCC chair Martin Hewitt stressed “the critical stage the country is at”, with the number of new cases and deaths showing “a clear need for people to stick to the rules”.

They also urged the small minority to recognise the “severity of the problem”.

Mr Hewitt said: “We have made it repeatedly clear that house parties and other large gatherings should not be happening. They are dangerous, irresponsible, and totally unacceptable.

“This is about saving lives. We know the majority of people are doing their level best to follow the rules and to protect the NHS, and I hope that the likelihood of increased fines for attending house parties acts as a further disincentive for those who are thinking of attending or organising such events.”

He said large indoor gatherings pose a significant risk of transmission and the police have been active in enforcing against egregious breaches recently.

Last week, South Yorkshire Police issued 127 fixed penalty notices (FPNs), of which 92 were for indoor gatherings and at the weekend, 15 people were fined at a house party in a holiday rental in Sheffield.

In Greater Manchester, police responded to three separate parties last weekend, the largest involving more than 40 people at a flat in Cheetham Hill.

And the Metropolitan Police issued more than 140 FPNs totaling £39,000 in just two days last weekend. These included a house party of more than 40 people in Tower Hamlets and a large party at a place of worship in Hackney.

Ms Patel said: “Police officers are now moving more quickly to handing out fines when they encounter breaches. And they have my absolute backing in doing so.

“As we have done throughout this pandemic, we are constantly reviewing our approach to ensure we can crack down on the most serious cases of rule-breaking.

“The science is clear: such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant public health risk – not only to those in attendance, but also to the police officers who attend to shut down these events.

“From the outset, we have given the police the necessary powers to enforce the rules, which are in place to control the spread of the virus.

“As this latest measure demonstrates, we will not stand by while a small number of individuals put others at risk.”

Currently those attending a large illegal gathering could receive a fine of £200 (£100 if paid early).

Penalties of £10,000 for holding large unlawful gatherings of more than 30 people will still only apply to the organiser.

Mr Hewitt said police will continue to engage with the public, explain the rules and encourage compliance, but for “egregious breaches” such as parties, offenders can expect to receive a fine if they break the rules.

He added: “When we see people that are putting themselves and others in danger, we will not waste time trying to reason with them.

“They are demonstrating no regard for the safety of others, or even for themselves.”

Mr Hewitt said forces had been reporting “a significant increase” in the number of FPNs, reflecting the fact more officers have been out on dedicated patrols taking “targeted action against the small few who are letting everyone down”.

He added: “As we do with all changes to regulations, we will be providing guidance to police officers to support them in explaining and applying any changes.”

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