Police broke up an illegal rave at a church in Essex after partygoers broke in and trashed the Tudor building on New Year’s Eve.
The force said they fined partygoers more than £18,000 and arrested five people after crowds flouted COVID restrictions by attending unlicensed events in the county on December 31.
It comes as a new variant of coronavirus continues to spread rapidly across the UK with the NHS on the brink of being overwhelmed by the surge in hospital admissions.
Police around the country the UK were forced to deal with large crowds and illegal raves on New Year’s Eve amid the growing COVID crisis.
On Thursday night, hundreds of people broke into the Tudor church of All Saints East Horndon in Thorton Park to throw an illegal party, Essex Police said.
Officers attended the scene to break up the rave but were met with threats and had objects thrown at them, the force added.
Eventually, they managed to seize the equipment and disperse the crowd before midnight.
Three people were arrested at the scene including a 27-year-old man from Harlow, who was detained on suspicion of possession with intent to supply Class A drugs, a public order offence, and breaching coronavirus protection regulations.
A 22-year old man, also from Harlow, was arrested on suspicion of a public order offence, possession of cannabis, and breaching coronavirus protection regulations 2020.
Meanwhile, a third man, 35, from Southwark, was arrested on suspicion of possession of Class A and Class B drugs.
A JustGiving page, set up to help pay for damage caused to the church, has so far raised more than £9,000.
Astrid Gillespie, a friend of All Saints East Horndon, which is run by a conservation society, wrote on the page: “The much loved Tudor church of All Saints East Horndon was sadly used for an illegal rave on New Year‘s Eve.
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“Essex Police made arrests and seized equipment, but now a massive clean up is required after hundreds of revellers trashed the place and caused damage to the building.”
Gillespie wrote that the locks need to be changed after an illegal copy appeared to be made of the keys.
She also said a window was broken to create an air extraction system, the walls were damaged when people blacked out the window and the electrics were tampered with to power the party equipment.
She said: “We are only a small group of volunteers who look after this beloved building and rely on donations to pay for the repairs that are required to the window, the door lock, the electrics and a massive deep clean operation.
“In non Covid times the church is opened up for events throughout the year, such as open days and plays, and we hope to be able to get the church back in a presentable order this year so we can welcome people in again once we are allowed.”
Elsewhere in Essex, officers dispersed around 100 people and seized a generator at an unlicensed event at an abandoned warehouse in Brentwood.
They said that two people were arrested - one for failing to provide details, and the other on suspicion of drink driving.
A woman was also issued a £10,000 fine for organising a house party with around 100 attendees on Bury Road, Sewardstonebury.
Police again seized the equipment inside and dispersed the crowd, issuing more than 25 fixed penalty notices in the process.
Assistant Chief Constable Andy Prophet said: “I’d like to firstly thank everyone across Essex who stayed at home and did the right thing last night.
He continued: “Unfortunately, there were others who decided to blatantly flout the coronavirus rules and regulations and, ultimately, they decided that partying was more important than protecting other people.
“We’ve seized their equipment, arrested five people, and issued a large number of fines to those who think this behaviour is acceptable.
“We need you to keep yourselves, other people, and the NHS, safe.”
Watch: Senior medic worried by rising hospital admissions in England