Woman fined under coronavirus law has conviction overturned

The first woman to be found guilty of breaching the new coronavirus restrictions on the railway network has had her conviction overturned after British Transport Police (BTP) admitted misinterpreting the legislation.

Apr 3, 2020
By Tony Thompson

Marie Dinou, 41, from York, was arrested at Newcastle Central Station on Saturday (March 28) after she allegedly failed to tell officers why she needed to travel. She was arrested on suspicion of breaking restrictions imposed under the Coronavirus Act 2020.

The law enables health officials to direct people to hospitals or testing centres and gives powers for police to enforce their instructions. Schedule 21 creates an offence of “failing without reasonable excuse to comply with any direction, reasonable instruction, requirement or restriction” imposed as part of the Act.

However, the law, which had been drafted at a time when the threat was perceived to come mainly from people entering the UK from abroad, can apply only to “potentially infectious persons” and is separate to the newer Health Protection Regulations that allow police to enforce the UK lockdown

Ms Dinou appeared at North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court on March 30 where she was fined £660 and ordered her to pay a £66 victim surcharge and £85 in costs.

Following a joint review by BTP and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), it has been established that Ms Dinou was charged under the incorrect section of the Act. BTP initially contacted the court to ask for the conviction to be set aside and the case to be relisted but has since decided not to pursue any alternative prosecution.

Deputy Chief Constable Adrian Hanstock said: “There will be understandable concern that our interpretation of this new legislation has resulted in an ineffective prosecution.

“This was in circumstances where officers were properly dealing with someone who was behaving suspiciously in the station, and who staff believed to be travelling without a valid ticket. Officers were rightfully challenging her unnecessary travel.

“Regardless, we fully accept that this shouldn’t have happened and we apologise. It is highly unusual that a case can pass through a number of controls in the criminal justice process and fail in this way.

“We have shared the latest version of guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council this morning with all of our frontline officers to help them interpret the new legislation.

“I must remind the public that officers will continue to engage with people and seek to understand their reasons for their journeys. Where we determine that there is no justifiable purpose for them being on the transport network, we will explain to the public why they should not travel.

“As a last resort, and where situations develop, we may need to apply the law as set out in the new Coronavirus Act and the Health Protection Regulations.”

Both BTP and the CPS said they would undertake a more detailed review of the case to ensure that any lessons to be learnt are integrated into their shared justice processes.

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