As PM continues to be investigated for breaching COVID law, Dimitris Dimitriadis explores heavy penalties for ethnic minority groups
As a group of MPs are set to investigate Boris Johnson over his ‘Partygate’ lockdown transgressions, new data has led campaigners to question whether COVID rules were being properly enforced on Transport services for London (TfL), the Byline Intelligence Team can reveal.
In the first seven months of 2021, when restrictions were eased in England, TfL issued some 2,764 Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs), according to data obtained through Freedom of Information Legislation (FOI ).
It was part of his attempt to crack down on what he described as a “selfish minority” of passengers who didn’t wear face masks for no good reason.
Of these FPNs – part of emergency legislation introduced at the start of the pandemic – more than a quarter (25.5%) were issued to black people, even though only 13% of the capital’s inhabitants identify as black.
The disparity has raised concerns among activists.
“Each new piece of data points to racial profiling in the enforcement of COVID regulations,” said Kevin Blowe, coordinator of netpola police watchdog.
This was echoed by Habib Kadiri, Head of Policy and Research at Stopwatch United Kingdom – who campaigns for fair policing, who said: “The government was warned of the folly of trying to pull the police out of the pandemic when the COVID-19 lockdown period began.”
He added that FPNs were being used as “another means of profiling and pursuing individuals” and questioned whether the officers “were as willing to patrol the Waterloo and City line as their usual so-called hotspots, such than the Seven Sisters resort” – a much more diverse part of town.
A TfL spokesperson acknowledged that “people have valid concerns about fair enforcement of the rules on the network”, but said “its approach to enforcement was fair and consistent”.
They added that the disparity was not the result of “discrimination or a lack of training” by law enforcement officers.
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Last year the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a cross-party group of MPs, said the FPN was “confusing, discriminatory and unfair”, warning of the scale of the penalties and the criminalization of those who cannot afford to pay them.
FPNs for face coverings have been issued at £200 – or £100 for those who pay within two weeks. But many of those who failed to pay, or perhaps couldn’t afford to, faced lawsuits and much heftier bills starting at £660 for those found guilty of a first offence.
Of the 4,365 FPNs issued by TfL between July 9, 2020 and July 16, 2021, almost 30% (1,276) were “not paid for and were subsequently successfully prosecuted”, according to a response from FOI.
Said Jun Pang, policy and campaign manager at Liberty, a campaign group that challenges injustice, said: “Those traveling on TfL services are likely to be people who could not work from home, including workers frontline workers who we know are disproportionately likely to be people of color.
Pang also criticized the government for creating sweeping powers to enforce COVID rules, which have been applied “inconsistently” and in a “discriminatory manner”.
The problems identified by the Joint Human Rights Committee were “even more concerning when one takes into account the statistics which show that young people, those from certain ethnic minorities, men and the most socially disadvantaged are significantly more likely to be issued FPNs than those in other groups,” according to its report.
“That’s why it’s so important that the impending public inquiry into COVID-19 examines how the restrictions have been enforced,” Blowe said, urging that pandemic monitoring – which is currently not part of of his mandate – be added to his mandate.
Meanwhile, dozens of Downing Street workers have received FPNs – including the Prime Minister and Chancellor – for breaching COVID lockdown laws, after Met Police initially said they were not investigating generally not about breaches of coronavirus regulations “long after they were told have occurred”.
His investigations into the dozens of events held in Downing Street during the pandemic are still ongoing.
This article was produced by the Byline Intelligence Team – a collaborative investigation project formed by Signing time with Citizens. If you want to know more about the Intelligence team and how to finance his work, click on the button below.
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