Second £10,000 Covid fine case collapses at Northampton Magistrates' Court

Police admit "no reasonable prospect" of conviction after 75 people found at hotel function

Wednesday, 30th June 2021, 3:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 1st July 2021, 10:48 am

Another high-profile prosecution involving a £10,000 Covid fine has collapsed before reaching court.

The case against an alleged organiser of a gathering at Northampton's Campanile Hotel in December 2020 was discontinued at the town's magistrates court after police admitted there was "no reasonable prospect" of conviction.

Officers issued a £10,000 fixed penalty notice after finding approximately 75 people at what they believed to be a wedding reception but was later claimed to be religious event on December 13 when the area was under Tier Two restrictions.

Officers found around 75 people at a function at the Campanile Hotel in December
Officers found around 75 people at a function at the Campanile Hotel in December

But gaps in the law rushed through last August meant a 56-year-old man from Milton Keynes had to be charged under legislation relating to music raves.

He was due to appear on Tuesday (June 29) accused of "holding or being involved in holding an indoor rave-type gathering ... which would have been a gathering of the kind mentioned if it had taken place on land in the open air."

A spokesman for Northamptonshire Police said: “This incident occurred indoors but not in a private dwelling so the evidence had to satisfy the “rave” criteria in another set of legislation. The evidence obtained by Northamptonshire Police did not meet that criteria."

Prosecutors halted April's hearing connected to a funeral in Kettering moments before it was due to start at Northampton Magistrates Court.

Home Secretary Priti Patel introduced the £10,000 fines last August

The Crown Prosecution Service spokesman later revealed: "After careful review, it was concluded that there was insufficient evidence that the individual charged by the police had been responsible for the excess numbers attending, so the case was stopped.”

The man's £10,000 ticket is one of up to 14 Northamptonshire Police said they issued during the pandemic although only six have been processed according to National Police Chiefs Council data.

Earlier this month, Kenechi J’Ogbonna, aged 20, was fined £660 for organising a house party in Forfar Street, Northampton while a 21-year-old Londoner Kehinde Olagesin was fined £120 after admitting holding or being involved in the holding of a 21st birthday bash in Hazelwood Road.

Both cases were heard under the single justice procedure where minor criminal offences can be decided by a single magistrate reviewing paperwork rather than hearing evidence in open court.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said the department did not comment on sentences in individual cases, adding: “The level of any fine given by a magistrate is carefully arrived at by considering the facts of each offence and the relevant sentencing guidelines.

"They also take into account the seriousness of the offence as well as the defendants means and ability to pay any fine.”

One other court hearing has been adjourned following a not guilty plea while another case relates to two individuals involved jointly in the same breach of Covid regulations and is understood to be currently under review.

Home Secretary Priti Patel rushed through laws regarding £10,000 fixed penalties aimed at curbing illegal music raves over the August bank holiday.

They were also supposed to be a deterrent against house parties with more than 30 people under Tier Two rules in force before Christmas.

But the system has proved a legal nightmare with watchdogs and politicians voicing concerns.

National Police chiefs even ordered all forces to stop issuing the mega-fines for a time when it emerged that many had penalties reduced to hundreds of pounds instead of thousands after judges decided the level of fine should be determined by an individual’s ability to pay.

The NPCC later issued a statement saying forces could begin issuing £10,000 fines again but "people found to be in breach of the regulations relating to gatherings of over 30 people will be made fully aware of their options, to ensure fairness.”

The Northamptonshire Police spokesman added: "This was a nationally dynamic situation with rapid legislative changes and our officers saw their powers change several times over a very short period of time.”