Old Kent Road venue owner fined for secret lockdown-busting wedding

·3-min read
 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

The director of an Old Kent Road venue has been handed a £2000 legal bill over a secret wedding held during lockdown which was attended by more than 200 people.

Police were called out to a suspected burglary at LNA Venues, but instead discovered wedding guests packed inside and behind the closed shutters.

Officers cleared the venue of people on October 18 last year, at a time when just 15 people were legally allowed at weddings, as Detective Superintendent Nicky Arrowsmith described it a “flagrant” rule breach which “could have been a breeding ground for transmitting the virus”.

The director of the venue, Lisseth Aguilera Rojas, has now been prosecuted over the incident and ordered to pay a £1760 fine as well as £276 in court costs and fees.

PC Gareth Ellinson told the court he and colleagues were dispatched at just after 9.30pm to investigate a “possible burglary” at 176-178 Old Kent Road.

“The informant had seen people going into the venue by lifting the shutters”, he said in his statement.

“Upon arrival, the venue appeared closed as the shutters were down, but on closer inspection it was discovered there were people inside.

“The people inside lifted the shutters and it was discovered that a wedding party was taking place but the owner of the venue was not present.”

Aguilera Rojas, 48, who lives in Camberwell, was identified as the director of the venue, but when contacted to be issued with a fine it emerged she was in Spain.

PC Ellinson said she replied “yes obviously” when asked if she was aware of the pandemic, and she was urged not to reopen the venue until lockdown restrictions had been eased.

At the time of the incident, Det Supt Arrowsmith said officers had seen “over 200 people inside, no social distancing and indeed no attempts to make the venue Covid secure, in line with the Government guidelines”.

“Being reported for a fine is clearly not a wedding present people would be expecting, however as this was such a flagrant breach of the regulations, it was entirely necessary”, she added.

Aguilera Rojas did not enter a plea to the charge of contravening the requirement as to restriction of movement during the emergency period, and was convicted in her absence in March.

She was among a batch of offenders who were dealt with in secret by magistrates, using the Single Justice Procedure (SJP) and without the courts revealing the existence of the cases to the public or the media.

The SJP system was controversially introduced in 2015 on a promise that it would only deal with “low-level” offences such as speeding and train fare dodging that are of limited public interest. It allows a single magistrate, sitting behind closed doors, to convict and punish defendants based on paperwork presented to the court.

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland is now facing calls to halt Covid-19 prosecutions under SJP over fears that people are being wrongly convicted and unjustly sentenced.

Pressure groups including Fair Trials and Big Brother Watch have urged Mr Buckland to intervene, arguing that defendants prosecuted through SJP are facing new and complex Covid-19 offences often without access to legal advice, there is an absence of scrutiny of the process, and there is evidence of the new powers being incorrectly wielded by police.

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