One rule for them – How many people were fined during lockdown while Downing Street partied?

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·Data and Politics News Editor, Yahoo News UK
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LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JANUARY 12, 2022: British Prime Minister Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street for PMQs at the House of Commons on January 12, 2022 in London, England. Boris Johnson is facing pressure over alleged gathering of No 10 staff in Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020 at a time when strict Covid-19 lockdown measures were in place. (Photo credit should read Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)
The scandal over Downing Street lockdown parties has been increasingly toxic for Boris Johnson. (Wiktor Szymanowicz/Future Publishing via Getty Images)

Boris Johnson is facing mounting criticism as reports continue to emerge of parties held in Downing Street during lockdown.

More damaging details emerged on Thursday after witnesses revealed that No 10 staff held a "raucous" party the night before Prince Philip's funeral.

The PM admitted attending a party for the first time this week, telling MPs he was present at a gathering in the No 10 garden for 25 minutes in May 2020. He offered a "heartfelt apology", and claimed he believed the gathering was a work event and therefore permitted.

As well as putting pressure on the prime minister, the reports of lockdown parties have called into question the actions of the Metropolitan Police.

The force was accused of an "establishment stitch-up" by Lib Dem leader Ed Davey over their decision not to investigate the No 10 gatherings.

A protestor in Parliament Square in Westminster, London, as public anger continues following the leak on Monday of an email from Boris Johnson's principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, inviting 100 Downing Street staff to a
A protestor holds a sign in Parliament Square in Westminster. Public anger continues to grow following the leak on Monday of an email from Boris Johnson's principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, inviting 100 Downing Street staff to a "bring your own booze" party. (PA Images)

The multiple parties – coupled with the Met's apparent reluctance to investigate – have become toxic for Johnson.

Many people, not least some of Johnson's own MPs, have asked why those making the rules appeared to be so happy to break them, and why so many ordinary people were punished with hefty fines while those in power were not.

Here, Yahoo News UK takes a look at the punishments that were doled out during lockdown.

How many people have been fined for breaking lockdown rules?

Since May 2020, police have issued a total of 118,9632 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) for breaches of lockdown rules in England and Wales.

Almost all were issued up to 19 July 2021, after which all COVID restrictions were lifted in England, with the exception of some rules concerning international travel.

At the same time in Wales, some rules remained in place concerning face coverings.

By far the most COVID fines were handed out during the January 2021 lockdown when all of England was placed under Tier 4 restrictions.

The highest number of fixed penalty notices were handed out during the January 2021 lockdown (Yahoo News UK/Flourish/National Police Chiefs Council)
The highest number of fixed penalty notices were handed out during the January 2021 lockdown (Yahoo News UK/Flourish/National Police Chiefs Council)

Some 8,381 FPNs were given out by police in a single week from 29 January. The figures dropped dramatically as restrictions on gatherings were eased.

How many people have been fined over illegal gatherings?

The bulk of COVID fines throughout the pandemic have been for breaches relating to banned gatherings and events, such as those alleged to have taken place in No 10.

More than 80,000 FPNs have been issued for breaches concerning events or gatherings since the start of the pandemic, most of which were during the three national lockdowns

Some 57,755 FPNs were issued over illegal gatherings while the tier system was in place in England (Yahoo News UK/Flourish/National Police Chiefs' Council)
Some 57,755 FPNs were issued over illegal gatherings while the tier system was in place in England (Yahoo News UK/Flourish/National Police Chiefs' Council)

While the tier system was in place in England – a period that covers the January 2021 lockdown when the whole country was in tier 4 – 57,755 FPNs were issued by police.

Of these, 2,252 were fines for gatherings involving 15 people or more, an offence that could be punished with a fine of up to £6,400 for repeat offenders.

The most common reason for which an FPN was issued in England throughout the pandemic was for “contravening a requirement to not participate in a gathering ... of two or more people in a private dwelling or any indoor space” while under Tier 4 restrictions, with 32,062 fines dished out for this offence.

Who was most likely to be fined?

According to data from the National Police Chiefs' Council, younger people were more likely to receive a FPN, with 48% of all fines handed to 18-24-year-olds.

Men were considerably more likely to be fined than women, receiving 70% of all FPNs.

Younger people and men were more likely to be fined
Younger people and men were more likely to be fined

Research conducted after the first national lockdown by Liberty Investigates found that BAME people were disproportionately targeted by lockdown fines.

Their May 2020 research found that people of colour were 54% more likely to be fined than white people, with around 2,218 fines being issued to BAME people, and 7,865 to white people.

Widespread confusion over COVID rules

The government has faced criticism throughout the pandemic for its failure to allow proper scrutiny of new COVID rules, and for issuing confusing and conflicting advice.

Hundreds of new laws have been made in response to the coronavirus pandemic, along with rafts of non-legally binding guidance.

A protester holds a placard expressing his opinion during the demonstration. Protesters demonstrate against Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the
A protester holds a placard outside Parliament in London, England. Johnson is under attack from both his MPs and the public after admitting to having attended a garden party at Downing Street in May 2020 when the UK was still in lockdown. (Tejas Sandhu / SOPA Images/Sipa USA)

The police watchdog warned early on in the pandemic that there was "widespread confusion" among officers as to the status and enforceability of statements by ministers, and "frustration" over the ever-changing guidance.

The National Police Chiefs Council and College of Policing were forced to rush through guidance for forces, warning them against heavy-handedness and overreach of their powers following controversial tactics, such as employing drones to spy on walkers and challenging shoppers over the contents of their baskets.

This latest scandal adds the question of whether policing of the pandemic has been fair.

Jo Maugham, Director of Good Law Project, which has launched legal proceedings against the Met over its failure to investigate the No 10 parties, thinks not.

He told Yahoo News UK: "In a way, what the Met has permitted, parallel criminal law regimes, a normal one for normal people, and a special one for special people, is as profound an attack on the rule of law as Johnson's suspension of Parliament was on democracy."

Watch: Sir Keir Starmer mocks PM after more 'partygate' revelations

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