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People in most deprived areas 2.6 times more likely to be handed Covid fine

One in four Covid fines were issued to people living in deprived areas (Andrew Milligan/PA)
One in four Covid fines were issued to people living in deprived areas (Andrew Milligan/PA)

More than one in four fixed penalty notices were issued for breaches of Covid-19 rules to those living in deprived areas, a report has shown.

People living in the 10% most deprived areas of Scotland were 2.6 times more likely to be handed a fine than those living in the least deprived areas, figures analysed in a report by Professor Susan McVie at the University of Edinburgh show.

At the beginning of the pandemic, people living in deprived areas were 12.6 times more likely to be handed a fine – but this number reduced substantially over time as police dealt with breaches by people from a wider range of social backgrounds as the pandemic progressed.

Recipients also tended to be younger, with three quarters of fines being handed to people under the age of 30.

More than 20,000 police fixed penalty notices were registered by the Scottish Courts and Tribunal Service (SCTS) during 2020/21 in relation to breaking Covid rules.

The figures have been analysed in a report titled Police Use of Covid-19 Fixed Penalty Notices in Scotland and will coincide with a roundtable event organised by the Scottish Police Authority to reflect on the oversight of policing during the pandemic in Scotland.

The report is one of a series of data reports published by researchers at the University of Edinburgh to examine police use of temporary powers of enforcement issued under the Coronavirus Regulations.

This report analyses quarterly fines data published by the SCTS as well as linked administrative data from Police Scotland and the SCTS.

Research also showed fines issued to people for breaching the Covid-19 regulations in Scotland were more likely to be paid than fines issued to people for involvement in anti-social behaviour.

Lead researcher Professor McVie of Edinburgh Law School, said: “This report is the first in the UK to examine in detail the payment of fixed penalties issued in relation to breaches of the Covid-19 Regulations.

“Concerns that the public would reject these penalties, and fail to pay them, are not founded by this study. However, it does raise concern about the impact of incrementally increasing fines on those who may have been least able or willing to comply with the Regulations as it is likely that these individuals were also less able to pay their fines.

“Throughout the pandemic there was robust oversight of policing in Scotland, and reports have consistently shown that enforcement was the response of last resort for officers dealing with those who may be in breach of the Regulations.

“Nevertheless, it is difficult to say to whether the temporary policing powers contributed to reducing the spread of the disease or saving lives. Moreover, it is clear that the legitimacy of the Regulations in the eyes of the public waned over time, which posed significant challenges for the police.

“We recommend that the findings from this report should be considered in both the Scottish and UK public inquiries into the impact of the pandemic.”

Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said: “Throughout the pandemic, Police Scotland’s officers and staff stepped forward to explain fast-changing guidelines and emergency legislation to encourage people to do the right thing with consistency, compassion, common sense and discretion.

“Fixed penalty notices issued during the early phase of the pandemic were primarily issued in relation to travel infringements of the legislation. During the latter stage of the restrictions, officers were responding to calls from the public about gatherings or house parties where they engaged with people to encourage compliance.

“Fixed penalty notices were issued after all other avenues had been exhausted and only as a last resort.

“The vast majority of people followed the legislation and I want to thank our fellow citizens for their support and co-operation during the public health crisis.

“I am pleased the report recognises enforcement action was used only as a last resort, making up a small percentage of our many interactions with the public.”