A West Midlands Police chief defended the issuing of 671 Covid fines in ten weeks and said: “It’s our responsibility to take action.”
Assistant Chief Constable Chris Todd revealed the number of fixed penalty notices handed out to the public for breaches since the second lockdown in November.
They included 596 for crowd gathering offences, including £200 fines for Birmingham pub bombings campaigners.
Northfield MP Gary Sambrook and Nicola Richards, who represents West Bromwich East, have written to Chief Constable Dave Thompson to protest against those fixed penalties – labelling them ‘morally wrong’.
Julie Hambleton, whose sister Maxine died in the November 1974 attack, was among the six fined following a Convoy for Justice gathering on November 21. The event was held on the 46th anniversary of the Birmingham pub bombings.
In a statement Mr Todd said: “A number of fixed penalty notices were issued following a gathering outside West Midlands Police headquarters on 21 November.
“Following a review, the people present were found to be in breach of regulation nine of coronavirus legislation. This relates to gatherings of more than two people in a public place.”
He added: “We were given advanced notice of a planned convoy of vehicles in Birmingham on 21 November. After liaising with the organisers this was reviewed and not deemed to be in breach of the legislation.
“The organisers were made aware that any gathering would be in breach of lockdown two regulations unless exemptions applied.
“The convoy set off as planned and later paused in Bromsgrove Street, where there was a gathering on foot.
“We spoke to the people present and reminded them that such gatherings were in breach of regulations. They left a little while later and so no further action was taken.
“However, a short time later members of the same group gathered again outside West Midlands Police headquarters, in breach of lockdown regulations.
“Approximately 20 people gathered for around 15 minutes before leaving.
“On the day, we were responding to the spontaneous nature of these gatherings, their intention to gather was not communicated in advance. If this had been known, a different policing response would have been in place.
“Officers present on the day tried to engage and explain on the day. Following a review of the evidence and circumstances it has been decided that enforcement action is appropriate.
“We have since conducted a proportionate investigation and as part of this we’ve been seeking to identify those who were breaching the rules at the gathering.
“Having reviewed the nature and scale of the gatherings in Bromsgrove Street and outside Lloyd House and have been able to identify seven people that were present. They have been issued with a £200 fixed penalty notice.”
The officer also defended other fines issues in the Black Country since lockdown in November.
“We have also taken action against people at a protest in Wolverhampton the week before (14 November). 12 people were arrested and issued with fixed penalty notices,” he said.
“We’re also currently investigating after a rally in West Bromwich last month, (12 December) where 1000 directions to leave and three fixed penalty notices were issued.
“We accept the right to freedom of expression and peaceful protest is a key part of any democracy.
“However, coronavirus remains a deadly disease and there are still restrictions in place to prevent its spread.”
The statement continued: “We assess and carefully balance the regulations and individual freedom against the current lockdown restrictions, working with the organisers of such events.
“We continue to encourage people to comply with the regulations to keep everyone as safe as possible. If there are breaches it’s our responsibility to take action.
“We issued 671 fixed penalty notices for breaches during lockdown two, of which 596 were for gathering offences.”
Mr Todd added: “With regards to other protests from earlier last year, it’s worth recognising that the legislation has changed slightly since then, as has the national approach to policing through the pandemic.
“Our policing style has evolved because infection rates have continued to rise since lockdown two and we therefore seek to enforce breaches quicker than we previously have.”
In a letter to Chief Constable Sir Dave Thompson the MP shad asked for the pub bombings fines to be reconsidered as the campaigners had been “singled out.”
The letter said: “It is deeply concerning and morally 2wrong to fine the victims’ families of a terrorist attack who are campaigning for justice.
“While mass protests have been allowed to go unchecked through our city throughout the year. This is an inconsistent approach and from the outside incredibly bias.
“It was right that police have powers to enforce compliance during the pandemic, but they should be used ‘proportionately and consistently.’
“It is clear that is not happening in the West Midlands.”