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More than three in five coronavirus fines have gone unpaid in some parts of England, figures suggest

by Sharon Colwell (2020-11-24)


More than three in five coronavirus fines have gone unpaid in some parts of England, figures suggest.

A freedom of information request revealed that nine forces saw 60% or more of the penalties go unpaid within 28 days between March 27 and September 21. 

The total number of fines issued in England and Wales within this period was 18,912. 

The highest proportion of unpaid fines was in the Cleveland force area, where 72% of fines for the period, 215 out of 298, went unpaid.

In Northumbria the proportion was 68%, with 188 out of 278 fines not paid, while in West Yorkshire 66% of fines, 497 out of 756, toto sgp went unpaid, according to data from the criminal records office ACRO which administers the fines.

There were six more regional forces where 60% or more of the penalties went unpaid within 28 days - Staffordshire (65%, 28 out of 43), Durham (65%, 115 out of 178), Humberside (63%, 88 out of 140), Merseyside (61%, 300 out of 492), West Midlands (61%, 230 out of 380), and South Yorkshire (60%, 225 out of 375).

For British Transport Police, 60% of fines issued in England were unpaid within 28 days (197 out of 327), while the figure was 71% for the penalties handed out in Wales (17 out of 24).  

It comes as police forces were told to resume handing out £10,000 so-called super-fines less than a week after a decision to suspend them.

West Midlands Police's chief constable said the force stopped handing out the fines 'last week' after concerns were raised about potential inequality between those who pay up within 28 days and those who challenge the notices in court. 

A freedom of information request revealed that nine forces saw 60% or more of the penalties go unpaid within 28 days between March 27 and September 21

When fines go to court they are means-tested, meaning the recipient's ability to pay is taken into account.

Labour's West Midlands regional police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said the move had come about following advice being issued by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC).

He has now written to policing minister Kit Malthouse for a 'rapid response', claiming the Government had failed to provide the police with 'workable Covid legislation'.

Nottinghamshire's Labour police and crime commissioner Paddy Tipping said he was 'surprised at the guidance from the NPCC', having received a written commendation from Home Secretary Priti Patel for being the first force to issue a super-fine.

Mr Jamieson said he also found the situation 'deeply embarrassing' personally, having himself been an 'enthusiastic' supporter of the introduction of tough rules.

But gym owners embraced the 'brilliant' news and claimed it 'validates' them trying to stay open and shows 'what the government has been doing has been ridiculous'.

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It was previously disclosed that about half of fines nationally went unpaid in the 28-day period, although chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) Martin Hewitt said this proportion is similar to other fixed-penalty notices.

People who receive a coronavirus fine can appeal in the first instance to the police force that handed out the penalty, to try to get it withdrawn.

In three areas, 40% or more of penalty notices were rescinded by the force after being issued during the period.

These were Merseyside (48%, 236) Staffordshire (47%, 20), and Derbyshire (44%, 111).

This was also true for British Transport Police in England, which withdrew 40% (131) of fines.

For the forces with the most unpaid fines, Cleveland rescinded 21% (63), Northumbria 13% (35) and West Yorkshire Police 29% (217).

British Transport Police Wales withdrew 33% (8), Durham 19% (33), Humberside 1% (2), West Midlands 25% (94), and South Yorkshire 19% (70).

The total number of fines issued in England and Wales between March 27 and September 21 was 18,912

The figures provide a snapshot of data gathered by forces as of September 21, and as a result of the way the figures are recorded, may contain some overlap between the number of unpaid fines, those rescinded and formally contested.

Lawyer Raj Chada, head of the criminal defence department at Hodge Jones & Allen, described Covid regulations as a 'mess' and said criminal law needed to be clear and consistent otherwise it becomes 'arbitrary and unfair'.

Kirsty Brimelow QC, a human rights barrister at Doughty Street Chambers, told PA it was 'predictable' people would stop paying fines, with some not being able to afford to pay them, or not feeling they did break any laws, while others 'may just be resentful that those in power acted as if the laws did not apply to them'.

Calling for panels to be set up to review fines, she said: 'Currently, it is a lottery whether you are fined and whether it will be rescinded.

'And it is questionable as to how effective issuing fines is to preventing the spread of the virus.

'Rather they are adding stress and hardship to people who already are suffering.'

The ACRO data also showed that in total, 293 fines issued between March 27 and September 21 in England and Wales were formally being contested.

Madeleine Stone, legal and policy officer at campaign group Big Brother Watch, said the figures 'make it plain that there are serious failings in the way police have issued fines during the pandemic' and described unpaid lockdown fines as a 'prosecution crisis waiting to happen', adding: 'The laws governing lockdowns are constantly changing, complex and poorly drafted.'

On Tuesday, it emerged forces were last week told to stop handing out £10,000 super-fines and instead issue a court summons amid concerns there was potential disparity in the process for those asked to pay up within 28 days and others who challenge the penalty notices in court.

Later that day, the NPCC said it had resolved the issue by agreeing that anyone issued with an FPN would be made fully aware of the right to fight it in court.

Owen Weatherill, the officer leading the policing response to the pandemic, told MPs last month that it had taken forces time to understand the changing lockdown rules, and said that he had pushed the Government to keep messaging for the public simple.

A spokesman for the NPCC said: 'We have enforced the law as set by the Government and Parliament.

It is only right that fines are then processed in accordance with the law and we therefore encourage people not intending to contest a fine to pay it.

'If any individuals are concerned about why they have received a fine, they can raise it with the force which issued the FPN within the 28-day payment period.

'Officers will have recorded their justifications for issuing an FPN, along with providing evidence to support any breaches of the regulations.

'Once a fine is contested or unpaid the case will proceed to court.

Police forces review all of these cases to further ensure only those cases that meet the evidential and public interest test are heard in court.'

  Police suspend £10,000 on-the-spot Covid fines and say all flouters should now go to court for means-testing before paying any penalties
  • The National Police Chiefs' Council said officers will not be giving out the fines
  • The move comes amid fears of 'inequalities' in the fixed notice penalties system
  • Flouters will instead get a summons to a magistrates' court and be means tested
  • It could see them paying less than the £10,000 or having more time to pay back
  • Have YOU been fined £10,000?

    Email: james.gant@mailonline.co.uk

The Government's policing minister has been asked to provide 'urgent' clarification after the issuing of £10,000 'super-fines' for lockdown rule-breakers was suspended.

West Midlands Police's chief constable said the force stopped handing out the fines 'last week' after concerns were raised about potential inequality between those who pay up within 28 days and those who challenge the notices in court.

When fines go to court they are means-tested, meaning the recipient's ability to pay is taken into account.

Labour's West Midlands regional police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said the move had come about following advice being issued by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC).

He has now written to policing minister Kit Malthouse for a 'rapid response', claiming the Government had failed to provide the police with 'workable Covid legislation'.

Nottinghamshire's Labour police and crime commissioner Paddy Tipping said he was 'surprised at the guidance from the NPCC', having received a written commendation from Home Secretary Priti Patel for being the first force to issue a super-fine.

Mr Jamieson said he also found the situation 'deeply embarrassing' personally, having himself been an 'enthusiastic' supporter of the introduction of tough rules.

But gym owners embraced the 'brilliant' news and claimed it 'validates' them trying to stay open and shows 'what the government has been doing has been ridiculous'.

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said officers will not be dishing out the fixed notice penalties amid the 'inequalities' (file photo)

Explaining the decision at a meeting of the West Midlands strategic policing and crime board on Tuesday, the force's chief constable David Thompson called it 'unfortunate' while adding alleged rule-breakers would get a court summons instead.

The force has already issued 13 of the fines, reserved for the most serious social-distancing breaches.

Mr Thompson, who is also a vice-chairman of the NPCC and its lead on finance matters, said: 'I think it's unfortunate.

'It is unhelpful this issue has arisen, but actually there is still legislation. The point I would make to the public is we will carry on enforcing this area of the law.

Labour's West Midlands regional police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said the move had come about following advice being issued by the National Police Chiefs' Council

'The difference is it won't be a ticket, it will be through a summons.'

Mr Thompson, who said the force had also been 'a very strong supporter' of the tough measures, was asked to shed light on the suspension by the commissioner during the meeting.

He said the £10,000 amount was 'unusual' for a fixed penalty notice (FPN), and it was the large fine amount where a concern had arisen.

Mr Thompson said: 'The issue is - last week - the fixed penalty notice was suspended and that is because of the debate over the means by which the person can meet the cost of that fine would normally be assessed by a court.

'The level (of fine) is so high there is a concern emerging that actually levying through a fixed penalty is problematic.

'So the force has moved to a position where we will report people for a summons for this particular offence and they'll go to court through that route.'

He added the force had employed a 'very tight policy' around issuing the super-fines, 'because we have been very conscious a £10,000 levied fine is substantial'.

'We have never issued tickets where we don't have a considerable amount of evidence,' he added.

Mr Jamieson also asked what the situation was for those fined who had already paid, asking 'if they will be getting a rebate' or 'go to court retrospectively', and those who had not yet paid.

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However, the chief constable was unable to answer those queries.

The commissioner said: 'The fact we were enthusiastic about helping the Government in enforcing the Covid legislation I have to say for myself - and I have been supporting it as well - is deeply embarrassing now that we have found that the legislation has been found wanting.

'It hasn't been properly thought-through.

'It has led to what I consider to be a deeply embarrassing situation and I think has in some way actually undermined some of the work our excellent officers are doing.'

He added: 'I have written to the policing minister expressing my extreme anger this legislation wasn't properly thought-through and led us into the position we were in today.'

Kevin Harper from Majestic Gym in Pemberton, Wigan, told MailOnline: 'To find out that they are stopping it is brilliant.

£10,000 is a life changing amount of money.

'It just shows that public opinion and what we have been doing has been absolutely validated and what the government has been doing has been ridiculous.'

Thea Holden (left) of EmpoweredFit in Liverpool said she thought it was the correct thing to do

Mr Harper said his gym has stayed open throughout the lockdown due to contractual obligations to his clients.

But he added that he has not been fined £10,000 and has not had to go through the courts to appeal any fixed penalty notices.

He said the difference between law and legislation had allowed him to remain open without being in breach of the rules.

Thea Holden of EmpoweredFit in Liverpool said it did not affect her because she has accepted her £2,000 fine.

But she added: 'It's the correct thing to do, stopping the on the spot ridiculously high fines- people are already financially struggling and the poverty line is growing.

'The 10k fines just caused more of a divide within society in my opinion.'

The NPCC and the Home Office have both been approached for comment.

It comes after police shut down three illegal parties in one night across Merseyside this week.

Officers were called to three properties over the weekend and slapped organisers with fines following the breach of coronavirus lockdown regulations.  

Twenty-seven revellers were issued with fixed penalty notices at a rental property on Lace Street, Liverpool City Centre, on Saturday at 6.10pm after reports of a party. 

Twenty-seven revellers were issued with fixed penalty notices at a rental property on Lace Street, Liverpool City Centre, (pictured, stock image) on Saturday at 6.10pm after reports of a party

Police were also called to a gathering at a property at 12.20am on Oldham Street, Liverpool, (pictured, stock image) where two fixed penalties were issued