A man has become the second person to be wrongfully convicted under new coronavirus laws, Britain’s largest police force has today admitted.
The 21-year-old, who has not been named as he faces outstanding charges, was arrested outside Tooting Leisure Centre on Saturday, March 28.
He was later charged with possession of Class B drugs, going equipped to steal and breaching part of the Coronavirus Act.
The act, which came into force last month, allows officers to remove or detain a ‘suspected infectious person’ for screening and assessment with ‘reasonable force’ if necessary.
Police were given separate powers to break up gatherings and fine people breaching restriction of movement rules under the Health Protection Regulations 2020.
The man pleaded guilty to all three offences and was all offences two days later at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court and was fined £200 for possession of drugs and £60 for the offence under the Coronavirus Act.
But the Metropolitan Police has since admitted he was incorrectly charged.
The man pleaded guilty possession of Class B drugs, going equipped to steal and breaching part of the Coronavirus Act at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court (pictured) and was fined £200 for possession of drugs and £60 for the offence under the Coronavirus Act
The charge and the £60 fine have since been put aside, police have confirmed.
Police powers to tackle people flouting the coronavirus lockdown
- Up to two years in prison if you cough deliberately on someone after spate of attacks on police and emergency service workers
- People who continue to flout coronavirus lockdown rules will be breaking the law and can be arrested as part of new enforcement powers announced by the Home Office.
- Officers can also tell them to go home, leave or disperse an area and ensure parents are taking necessary steps to stop their children breaking the law.
- Those who refuse to comply could be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £60, which will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days.
- Second-time offenders could be issued a fixed penalty notice of £120, doubling on each further repeat offence.
- Those who do not pay the penalty can be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose fines up to £1,000 or more;
A spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police said: ‘It was identified this legislation had been applied incorrectly.
‘The charge and fine were subsequently set aside. The charges for possession of Class B drugs and going equipped to steal were not overturned and the £200 fine stands.
‘In this case officers were rightly dealing with an individual suspected of a separate crime and who was also in a public space without a valid reason.
‘However, (he) was incorrectly charged with an offence under the Coronavirus Act 2020. This legislation only relates to ‘potentially infectious persons’ which was not applicable in these circumstances.’
The spokesperson added: ‘This is very new legislation and we have been working with all of our frontline officers to help them interpret and understand it.
‘This includes sharing the recent guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing.
‘The officers involved have been spoken to and reminded of the way the legislation should be applied.’
It comes after Marie Dinou, 41, the first person to be prosecuted in the UK under the coronavirus laws, was wrongly fined £660 under the legislation after she was arrested at Newcastle Central Station by British Transport Police.
Marie Dinou (pictured), 41, the first person to be prosecuted in the UK under the coronavirus laws, was wrongly fined £660 under the legislation
She was arrested at Newcastle Central Station by British Transport Police because she ‘refused to speak’ to officers after being seen ‘loitering between platforms’
As previously reported by the MailOnline, British Transport Police, who carried out the arrest, said she was detained because she ‘refused to speak’ to officers after being seen ‘loitering between platforms’.
What is the Coronavirus Act – and how did police get the railway prosecution wrong?
The Coronavirus Act 2020 was rushed through Parliament last month and received Royal Assent March 25.
It gave emergency powers to enable the government to respond to the pandemic – and gave police emergency powers to enforce the Government.
Police have handed out hundreds of £60 fines to those flouting the new law so far.
Experts say that Marie Dinou should also have been treated in this way – or used existing legislation.
But instead police pursued a prosecution using Schedule 21 of the act.
Schedule 21 grants powers to public health officers, the police and immigration officers which relate to people who are, or may be, infected with coronavirus.
People can then be forced into self-quarantine at home or be forced to take a coronavirus test.
But in Ms Dinou’s case police admitted they didn’t believe she was infected.
And they also claimed that she ‘failed to give her identity’ or ‘reason for journey’ – but the Coronavirus Act does not make that illegal.
She was fined at North Tyneside Magistrates’ Court after she was found guilty of ‘failing to provide identity or reasons for travel to police, and failing to comply with requirements under the Coronavirus Act’.
But legal experts including QC Kirsty Brimelow quickly established the case had been bungled by the police, CPS and the courts because she was found guilty using the wrong legislation.
Ms Dinou’s case will be listed again at court – but detectives will not seek a new trial, meaning the case will be dropped and her conviction dropped.
UK civil liberties group Big Brother Watch said it was ‘astonishing’ the legislation was still being misused.
Silkie Carlo, director of Big Brother Watch, said: ‘It’s astonishing that after a string of damaging failures the emergency legislation is still being misused.
‘These sweeping powers to fine and detain people are so broad that police may try to apply them to any one of us.
‘We are in truly dangerous territory with such expansive powers and the police’s inability to use them adequately is severely damaging public trust as well as the rule of law.’
The Met said another case, involving a 15-year-old boy, was being ‘re-examined’ by the CPS.
The teenager was arrested in Kingston, south-west London, on Thursday April 2 and later charged with possession of a bladed article in a public place and failure to comply with a restriction contrary to paragraph 23(1)(a) and (2) of schedule 21 to the Coronavirus Act.
He pleaded not guilty to the charges at Wimbledon Magistrates’ Court the following day and is due back before the same court on May 6.
A CPS spokesman said: ‘We keep cases under review and that will be considered at the next hearing.’
The spokesman said no figures were yet available on the number of charges brought under the Coronavirus Act or how many were being reviewed.