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Civil liberties groups and human rights lawyers are demanding an urgent review of all coronavirus police fines issued under emergency powers amid accusations of “double standards” following the controversy surrounding Dominic Cummings.
Boris Johnson’s special adviser drove his wife and child 260 miles from London to Durham during lockdown after his wife developed Covid-19 symptoms and also made a 30 mile trip to Barnard Castle – but insisted he had done nothing wrong.
Durham Police later said Cummings “might have broken lockdown rules” but that it would have been a “minor breach” and they wouldn’t be taking any further action.
However, campaigners are angered by the move and say those who feel they were wrongfully fined will feel there is one rule for those in powerful positions and another for ordinary people.
One man who was given a fine by police for visiting a beach with his family told HuffPost UK how he is unrepentant as he feels he did nothing wrong. He has vowed not to pay the £60, saying he believes police are “abusing their powers” and that “it is one rule for high up people and another for the little people on the street.”
Around 15,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued by police in England and Wales for alleged breaches of coronavirus lockdown rules since the regulations came into force at the end of March.
There are separate rules for managing coronavirus in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. In England, the new lockdown rules from May 13 increased fines in England, meaning individuals can be fined on the spot up to £100 for a first offence, rising to £3,200 for repeat offences.
However, rights groups and lawyers are calling for a review of all fines amid concerns that “a significant number of fixed penalty notices have been wrongly issued”.
They are also arguing that the outcry surrounding Dominic Cummings shows there must be consistency in law for people in less powerful and privileged positions.
Daniel Brooks, 49, who lives in Oban on the West Coast of Scotland, told HuffPost UK he was handcuffed and taken to a police station on May 2 after he and his family were discovered at a beach by police officers.
In Scotland, although the once-a-day exercise limit has now been removed, the “stay at home” message remains.
Brooks, who is a conservationist, told HuffPost UK that he, his wife Deborah and their four children aged between one and 12 live in a block of flats without a garden and walked about an hour to get to a beach.
“It’s not healthy to be cooped up anywhere and we went to the beach to get some exercise and vitamin D,” he insisted. “It keeps you sane as when you feel locked in, your mental health starts to go and your relationships with your partner and children can suffer.
“Social distancing is the responsible thing to do and if you are on the beach and still keeping away from people, I don’t think you are doing anything wrong.
“There was nobody else on the beach. We were the only people there.”
It’s not healthy to be cooped up anywhere and we went to the beach to get some exercise and vitamin D. It keeps you sane as when you feel locked in, your mental health starts to go. Daniel Brooks
Brooks says that he and his family were having a “beautiful time” on the beach playing frisbee and splashing in the water when two police officers arrived at the scene.
He admitted that a couple of weeks earlier, the same officers had spotted them on the beach and told them to go home as they were flouting the lockdown rules.
“On that occasion, we had already been there a few hours and I didn’t want any conflict so we packed up and went home,” said Brooks. “But this time, I told them I did not think we were doing anything wrong.”
Brooks added: “No crime has been committed – you are just breaking their rules which are not real law.
“I told them they were overstepping their authority and disturbing the peace.”
Brooks was asked for ID but did not have any. When he refused to give his full name to the police officers, they handcuffed him and took him to the police station.
On arrival, a superior officer gave him two choices – give them his details so they could fine him, or spend three days in jail.
Brooks reluctantly handed over his details and the hand cuffs were removed and he was driven back to the beach. He is refusing to pay the fine.
High up people and big corporations get away with things and commit horrendous crimes all the time. But when the little person on the street does something, they get everything thrown at them. Daniel Brooks
“They are totally abusing their powers.” he said. “High up people and big corporations get away with things and commit horrendous crimes all the time. But when the little person on the street does something, they get everything thrown at them.
“It is absolutely one rule for them and one rule for us.”
Brooks says not only does he not regret his actions in going to the beach, he and his family are continuing to go to beaches.
“I have no regrets about going to the beach. We did nothing wrong. We did not commit a crime. We did not hurt anyone or threaten anyone or put anyone at risk.
“We have been to the beach many times during lockdown and have always socially distanced and been to very secluded areas where there’s no one else out there.
“I am a responsible man and do not need to be told what is right and wrong. I am very respectful of other people and making sure we keep our distance.”
A Police Scotland spokesperson told HuffPost UK: “We can confirm a 49-year-old man was issued with a fixed penalty notice in the Oban area on Saturday May 2 relating to a breach of the Covid-19 regulations.
“Our officers will continue to engage with the public, explain the legislation, encourage compliance and will use enforcement only when necessary.”
Civil liberties group Big Brother Watch and human rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow called for a CPS review of all prosecutions under emergency laws and they are now demanding a review of all police fines.
The CPS confirmed that everyone charged by police under the new coronavirus laws was wrongfully accused.
In a joint letter, Fair Trials, Inquest, Liberty, Netpol, Police Action Lawyers Group and StopWatch, are urging the chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Martin Hewitt to “instigate a national review of all Fixed Penalty Notices” since they believe they were “issued with less scrutiny” than the charges under review by the CPS.
The only way someone can contest a penalty is by risking a prosecution and going to a magistrates’ court, which could incur legal and financial risks.
Campaigners are cautioning that many people are paying fixed penalty notices even if they are inappropriately issued to avoid this risk.
They also believe the Cummings incident has highlighted a real disparity and many people now believe they should be shown similar leniency.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, told HuffPost UK: “We’ve compiled evidence of heavy handed and sometimes unlawful policing under emergency laws. There have even been scores of unlawful prosecutions.
“This ‘Wild West’ policing is dangerous and risks being normalised at a time of crisis.
“It’s vital that police review all the fines they’ve issued. Our analysis indicates well over 1,000 of them may have been wrongly and unfairly issued.”
She added: “If the fact Dominic Cummings was socially distancing allowed him to travel 260 miles and throw in a day trip, a lot of people who were also socially distancing yet fined for less will feel that they deserve leniency.
“There should be no double standards under the law.”
If the fact Dominic Cummings was socially distancing allowed him to travel 260 miles and throw in a day trip, a lot of people who were also socially distancing yet fined for less will feel that they deserve leniency. Silkie Carlo, Big Brother Watch
Human rights barrister Kirsty Brimelow told HuffPost UK Durham Police were correct to say Cummings would have been told to go home, not fined.
“Enforcement should be used as a last resort,” she said. “However, this approach has not been applied to people up and down the country. Undoubtedly, people will continue to feel that it is one rule for those in powerful positions and another for those without that cover.
Undoubtedly, people will continue to feel that it is one rule for those in powerful positions and another for those without. Kirsty Brimelow, human rights barrister
“This is damaging to both law and institutions. It will make policing by consent and cooperation more difficult. The government should set up a panel to review all fixed penalty notices issued.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council told HuffPost UK they had received the letter and are considering it. However, they have previously stated there are no plans to review fixed penalty notices.
Barrister Pippa Woodrow told HuffPost UK that in the case of Cummings, police appear to have assessed the public interest in punishing him – including the issuing of a fixed penalty notice – by reference to the public health danger he was causing.
“That is a sensible approach which reflects the underlying basis for these draconian restrictions.” she said. “What is concerning is that it does not appear to have been applied to other people in less powerful and privileged positions.
“This provides yet more evidence for why it is vital that the government should agree all previous fixed penalty notices must be reviewed.
“The rule of law requires consistency. The quality of our justice system and law enforcement must not depend on how powerful your boss is.”
This article originally appeared on HuffPost.