In the week that Downing Street held their BYOB garden party last May, more than 800 people received fines from the police for breaking lockdown rules.
It’s a figure that has hit more than 100,000 throughout the whole of the pandemic – yet, for many it feels that those in power, who have fallen on the wrong side of Covid laws, have managed to swerve any sort of official rap on the knuckles.
As everyday people were berated and fined for sunbathing in parks, or meeting a friend for a coffee and a walk, not only was Boris Johnson mixing with colleagues in the garden of No 10 – at an event where they were encouraged to ‘bring your own booze’ – but it’s also claimed that some of his team even partied with a DJ at Dowing Street, the night before Prince Phillip’s funeral.
Here, three people who had to make incredibly difficult choices about ‘flouting’ lockdown rules, reveal the impact their decisions had on them.
I was fined almost £1,000 for looking after my daughter’s friend in an emergency
Elizabeth MacKenzie, 44, from Preston says:
‘It was 11pm on 20 December 2020, and I was in the kitchen washing the dishes, when my doorbell went.
When I opened the door, there were two police officers outside, who said I’d been reported for having a 13th birthday party.
My daughter Angel had turned 13 that day and, given the circumstances, I’d done everything I could to make things nice for her – we had party bags, made Tik Tok dances, drank hot chocolate and watched movies – but we weren’t having a party.
When the police came, it was so late that the girls were upstairs in their pyjamas.
I’m a single parent and live with my three children and to help us cope, I had formed a bubble with my friend, Petra, and her daughter Kacie.
At that time, I also had one of my daughter’s friends, Libby, living with me, who I’d offered to take care of, as her dad had fallen off of a high ladder and broken his back.
I explained this to the police – and they said if I had just had one of the girls there, it would have been fine – but technically, they said, Libby would count as my ‘bubble’ – and so Kacie shouldn’t have been there.
Despite explaining my situation, I was taken to court – having to go on two separate occasions – and fined £936. I was already struggling and it really pushed me over the edge, financially and mentally.
I’m 44 and I’ve never been in trouble for anything before – and now, for helping someone out, I’ve been treated like a criminal.
In court, the magistrate even told me that I had put the children’s lives at risk. It was humiliating. I used to be a child care practitioner, working with young adults with additional needs: I’d never put my kids at risk.
What the magistrate said made me feel guilty, even though I had nothing to feel guilty about – I was helping out a family in need, while being in a bubble with another single mum.
The thing that really got to me was that the day I was in court, in the stand, was the day we found out about Boris having a party. It was like salt in the wound. It’s just so unfair.
As someone who suffers from depression the whole experience has made it 10 times worse. I’m having to pay the fine back at £20 a month, making the money problems I was having before even more difficult. I’m now looking at a debt relief order. It might not sound a lot but that money is taking away from what I allocate to essentials like gas, electricity or food. It leaves me struggling.
After this happened, I felt scared and worried about being accused of breaking the rules again. And now, I’ve still got the fine hanging over me. To make matters worse, I’ve been told that I could end up with a criminal record if I miss a payment, and a huge fine, or even a jail sentence. So, if there’s ever a month where an unexpected expense comes up, for example, if my daughter needs a new pair of shoes – I’m risking being labelled a criminal.’
I was made to feel like a criminal for sneaking out to visit my dying father
Denise Maxwell, 47, lives in Walsall and is a self-employed photographer at Lensi. She says:
‘I remember when I heard the announcement that we weren’t allowed to go and visit other households, back in March 2020. My first thought was, what about all those people who need care, or live alone, or rely on others for medication and shopping?
Then, I thought about my dad.
He was 84 and had been diagnosed with colon cancer, which he’d had for two years by this point. My step mum wasn’t able to do all of his care, as she was struggling with her health as well.
Because of his cancer he would sometimes have accidents that my step mom wasn’t able to clean up. It was a really difficult period, and they needed support.
So, when the rules were announced, I made the decision that I was willing to risk getting fined, or getting into trouble. To me, seeing my dad in his last months was more important.
He was unwell, and going to pass away and I didn’t want him spending his last days suffering more than he needed to. And, if we hadn’t gone to see him in his last year, that is what would have happened.
During this time my step sister also was doing their shopping and a neighbour from across the road was helping as well, as she was able to pop round more regularly.
I went to visit him that day – he protested at first because it was against the rules. But they needed my help and care. And I continued to do so over the next year, up until he died in February 2021.
However, I felt so judged and kept what I was doing secret for fear of being found out.
I would never have posted anything on social media, and I did get scolded by my family members for doing it, when they found out. Every time I visited, I felt nervous: Checking to see whether any of the neighbours had seen me, worrying that someone might phone and report me. I felt like some sort of criminal, for going to see my ill dad, who needed me.
Meanwhile, Number 10 was having parties.
Dad’s decline in the end was fast. Within three weeks he went from being able to go for walks, to being bedridden and unable to communicate to anyone. But he passed away at home, with his loved ones around him. This gives me some comfort.
However, we were only allowed 30 people at his funeral, which caused further stress to my step mom as she was getting pressure from friends and family that wanted to be on the list.
At a time that she was meant to be coping with losing her husband she was faced with this additional pressure, while being told she would be held responsible if crowds turned up at the funeral. It was a huge, unnecessary worry for her.
How do I feel about it all now? Thankful that I didn’t listen to the guidelines around visiting him. I have known people who have said their last goodbyes over an ipad.
I feel very angry about what the government were doing at that time, although not surprised. I think everyone who had fines should have them cancelled, or if not, the politicians who have broken the rules should have penalties and fines imposed.
Saying sorry isn’t enough – if we had known we could just do what we want and just say ‘sorry’, we would have all done it – but we couldn’t, and we didn’t.
But, ultimately, I’m more angry on behalf of the people who stuck to the rules completely, who were too scared to go and help their parents – because they are never going to be able to get that back, or erase the fact that their families died alone, while the government were going where they wanted and doing what they wanted; having affairs and parties.’
‘I had to cancel a vigil for Sarah Everard at the 11th hour – or face a £10k fine’
Sophia Waterfield, 32, lives in East Yorkshire and is co-founder of Reclaim These Streets Hull and co-admin of Women Reclaim on Facebook. She says:
‘It was March 2021 and I can’t think of another way to describe how I felt other than ‘all over the place.’
The death of Sarah Everard had really shocked and affected me: This was someone walking home, who had done everything ‘right’, going by the societal rules that have been imposed on us. It was all so unfair and upsetting.
So, I had arranged a vigil for Sarah. I – and those who had signed up to attend – wanted to stand in solidarity with the vigil that was happening in Clapham Common that same day. All we wanted to do was gather together, at the bottom of the high street in our own, small town, and take a moment to stand up for our rights, and honour a woman who had died at the hands of a police officer.
It wasn’t a protest – it was a vigil. So, technically, we didn’t have to inform the police of what we were doing. However, because it was going to be on a public highway, I wanted to let them know. We also spoke to the council and the town’s mayor and we were told that as long as we weren’t blocking the road, it would be fine.
But the police weren’t happy. I assured them that everyone would be wearing masks, be socially distanced, and be sticking to the rules. There would only be 20 or 30 people coming; it’s a small place, and not a young town. And it was important for us to be able to pay our respects.
It wasn’t until the day before the vigil, that I got a call from Humberside Police threatening me with a £10,000 fine if it went ahead. My phone rang not long after we discovered that Sarah’s body had been identified as being her. I was already reeling from that, when this happened. None of it felt real.
I’m a single, working class, disabled mum – with a disabled son. There’s no way I could risk a £10,000 fine – for doing something that wouldn’t even be breaking any rules?
Receiving this call, I felt like I was being silenced. It was a relatively small number of us who wanted to come and pay our respects to Sarah. Why were we stopped and threatened with a £10,000 fine? It was so unnecessary. It felt very threatening, and I felt incredibly vulnerable.
Having learned about all the secret parties at No.10, it feels as though, if you’re part of the elite, or you’re a rich, white man, you can do what you like. But if you’re at the ‘bottom’, you can’t do anything. You must abide by the rules, confined to the house. That is this government all over.
In May 2020, when Downing Street was having a party, I had been stuck at home for three months with my son, who was starting to show signs of autism. He didn’t have pre-school, and this was before bubbles. I wasn’t able to work because my son had nowhere to go.
It was a very lonely, isolating time, where my mental health took a massive blow. However, I did it because Covid was very serious. But the government seems to do what they want, and everyone else suffers because of it.
After I was threatened with such a big fine, I had a bit of fear going out.
Even if you weren’t breaking the rules, everyone was walking around with a feeling that they might be doing something wrong.
However, now we know that the government had been having parties since 2020, it feels like a complete slap in the face.’
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