Police report rise in large Covid lockdown parties in England

Secretly organised via social media, illegal events are becoming more creative and sophisticated

Police forces have reported an increase in large illegal lockdown parties in recent weeks, as streams of reports from members of the public expose popup events organised in secret via social media.

“We’re coming across bigger events at the moment,” said Stuart Bill, the bronze commander for Operation Reliant, a dedicated West Midlands police taskforce for tackling significant Covid breaches. “We’re seeing house parties and events in warehouses and derelict buildings, but finding them can be tricky.

“Organisers are sophisticated, they’re alive to the fact we will monitor social media, so [they promote] on closed platforms like Snapchat and WhatsApp. Most of our intelligence comes from the public.”

Last Saturday, following a tip off from someone who saw taxis dropping people off outside a building in Birmingham’s jewellery quarter, the operation disrupted 150 people at an illegal nightclub spread over two floors, featuring a VIP area and DJ. Officers also uncovered a makeshift pub, The Covid Arms, in a converted garage workshop the same night, with 12 people drinking inside.

Also last weekend, 20 people were discovered at a “silent disco” in Nottingham, where attendees listened to music via headphones, and 19 people were fined following a party at an Airbnb. About 30 people were found partying on a boat on the River Lea in north-east London.

“We get lots and lots of intelligence that we act upon every single weekend. Every Friday and Saturday night we go out with a list of locations, venues, addresses etc where there are reports of potential Covid breaches,” Bill said. The operation issued 130 fines for rule breakers last weekend, up from 96 the weekend before.

Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for policing and crime, Bev Hughes, also said officers were “seeing a resurgence of very large gatherings” after police foiled a party of 40 at the city’s tallest building last Friday. She said officers were also reporting an increasing trend of backroom bars and pubs opening up in closed premises.

It was reported in December that organisers of illegal New Year’s Eve parties were using private Instagram accounts to vet attendees.

“We’ve had silent discos, but in some of these places, like warehouses, while it’s brazen that they’re doing it, often there’s not any housing around so unless you’re seeking it, it’s not massively obvious to the general public,” Bill said.

Hughes said officers everywhere were “feeling there’s a lot more resistance now to intervention by the police,” and David Jamieson, the police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands, reported “an increase in the aggression of the people involved”. “That is where it’s going now, I think there is a frustration among people,” he said.

Bill said it was likely that the boredom of another lockdown was causing people to attend large parties, even while Covid case numbers remain high.

“January and February can be depressing months, the weather is miserable, there’s not necessarily a lot to look forward to and I think people have got fatigue of lockdown,” he said. “There are some really socially deprived areas where perhaps people don’t have the luxury of things in a house to keep them occupied. But equally, there are some people that will breach regardless.”

He said those behind the illegal events are not believed to be legitimate nightclub owners or event organisers, although some may be affiliated to the industry in some capacity.

“People get these sound systems from somewhere, they get these DJs from somewhere, and those people need to consider the impact of their actions as well,” said Michael Kill, the CEO of the Night Time Industries Association.

“We completely get the fact that people are frustrated, but we are very keen to make sure they understand there is light at the end of the tunnel and that these short bursts of opportunity are just not worth it, given the long term plan.”

He urged the government to ensure the industry was considered in any roadmap out of lockdown, otherwise “there is going to be further social unrest, particularly in terms of these illegal parties and events”.


Jessica Murray and Alex Mistlin

The GuardianTramp

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