Hundreds of coronavirus fines issued by police in week of Downing Street garden party

A police officer on a motorbike in front of a mural that advises people 'stay home'
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Hundreds of fines for breaking coronavirus (Covid-19) laws were handed out by police in the week of the Downing Street garden party during England’s first lockdown.

Scotland Yard has said it is in contact with the Cabinet Office about the 20 May 2020 allegations at Number 10.

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The coronavirus crackdown

There were 807 fixed penalty notices issued for breaches of coronavirus rules in England and Wales in the week between 15 May and 21 May 2020, the latest data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council shows. According to the figures, a total of 118,963 fines were processed by police between 27 March 2020 and 16 December 2021.

Coronavirus rules had changed a week before the party as the government warned it was considering tougher enforcement measures for anyone flouting the rules.

Lockdown fines rose to £100 in England on 13 May 2020 – a figure that mirrors the number of attendees invited to a Downing Street garden party around the same time. The fines could be issued to anyone believed to be breaching restrictions on movement amid the coronavirus outbreak. While anyone found breaking the law would have had their first fine lowered to £50 if paid within 14 days, the penalty doubled for each repeat offence, up to a maximum of £3,200.

Existing legislation known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 was updated to reflect the changes.

At the same time, the government published a 50-page document setting out its coronavirus recovery strategy for England which said it was “examining more stringent enforcement measures for non-compliance”. The document said the higher fines “reflect the increased risk to others of breaking the rules as people are returning to work and school”.

‘Reasonable’ excuses

Laws in force at the time still required people to have a reasonable excuse to leave their home, such as to buy food and medical supplies, and limited other exceptions such as attending a funeral, court, or legal proceedings, or to “escape a risk of harm”. There was no provision for people to attend garden parties with colleagues.

Changes in the law also allowed people to collect orders from shops and other businesses which had been permitted to stay open or go to waste and recycling centres.

According to the legislation, people could only meet one other person from outside their own household at a time in a public space or for exercise. Government ministers urged people not to visit relatives and friends in their own homes or gardens.

Guidance issued at the time said people would be able to spend time outdoors, other than just for exercise, as long as they were not meeting more than one person from outside their household, while observing social distancing measures by keeping two metres apart.

In terms of ‘excusing’ the current situation, Tory attempts to defend the prime minister have drawn criticism:

At the same time, Johnson has struggled to find MPs who will actually come out and support him:

In fact, some Tory politicians are openly calling for him to resign:

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