‘Case closed’: Man, 21, hit with £12,000 fine after police said lockdown breach case had been dropped

·3-min read
<p>Westminster Magistrates Court has been dealing with Covid-19 cases in closed-door sessions</p> (PA Archive)

Westminster Magistrates Court has been dealing with Covid-19 cases in closed-door sessions

(PA Archive)

A 21-year-old man has been fined £12,000 for an alleged breach of the Covid-19 lockdown, despite assurances from police that the case against him had been dropped.

Othniel Agyei was accused of holding a illegal gathering at his Kingston home in December last year, when London was placed under Tier 2 restrictions.

He challenged the initial fixed penalty notice, and then received a letter saying the Met Police had reviewed the evidence and decided to abandon the case.

However, a criminal prosecution continued against Mr Agyei and he was last month convicted of a Covid-19 breach, being ordered to pay a £12,000 fine as well as £290 in court costs and fees.

He has been threatened with bailiffs, thousands of pounds more in fines, or a prison sentence if he does not settle the court bill.

Mr Agyei insists the prosecution is a “mistake” and has secured a last-minute pause on the enforcement action, as his case returns to court next week for magistrates to consider if he has been wrongly convicted.

The letter sent to Othniel Agyei confirming his case had been ‘closed' (HMCTS)
The letter sent to Othniel Agyei confirming his case had been ‘closed' (HMCTS)

He has submitted a file of evidence to court to support his case, including a letter from the ACRO Criminal Records Office chief executive Robert Price confirming the case against him had been dropped.

“The issuing force reviewed the evidence in relation to this fixed penalty notice and have subsequently made the decision to take no further action”, Mr Price wrote in February. “The case is now closed.”

Mr Agyei was issued with the initial fixed penalty notice after being accused of holding a gathering on December 13 last year, in breach of the government’s Covid-19 Health Protection regulations.

He wrote to the police to request a court hearing to challenge the penalty, and was then repeatedly reassured that his case had ultimately been dropped.

Watch: Viral footage of police challenging dad in lockdown bust-up for smoking in car

“I don’t understand how I can be charged for a case that never should’ve gone to court in the first place”, he wrote to the court. “I was always told it has been closed (both in writing and verbally).”

His case was prosecuted under the court’s Single Justice Procedure, which allows a magistrate to convict defendants and pass sentence behind-closed-doors and based on paperwork rather than live evidence and submissions.

Mr Agyei’s case was among a batch of cases that were not only processed under the controversially opaque system, but which were also kept secret from the public and media.

Mr Agyei said he was confused when he received the ‘Single Justice Procedure’ notice of prosecution just after Easter, but was reassured by ACRO that it could be ignored.

“I was told that it was a mistake so I can safely ignore the letter and as long as I keep the letter confirming the closure of the case I am on the safe side”, he wrote.

He believes the confusion may have been caused by two identical cases being mistakenly opened against him, both relating to the same incident.

“I am very confused and upset as to what is going on here because I have a written confirmation of the case being closed months ago”, he added.

The case is due to be looked at again by the court on June 15, to consider overturning the conviction or amending the penalty.

Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland last week backed the use of the Single Justice Procedure for Covid-19 offence cases, but added that he would “keep a very close eye” on possible miscarriages of justice.

Watch: Police release footage of 'shocking' examples of lockdown breaches

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