The move marks an attempt to step up enforcement of social distancing rules designed to rein in the spread of coronavirus, as death rates remained above 1,000 a day.
Standing alongside Ms Patel at a Downing Street press conference, the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council Martin Hewitt said that stopping gatherings was a vital part of the “stay at home” drive to beat Covid-19.
Ms Patel said police have “my absolute backing” in stepping out the imposition of fines on those breaching lockdown restrictions.
While millions of people are making sacrifices in the national effort to defeat the virus, “there is still a small minority who refuse to do the right thing”, said the home secretary.
And she added: “My message is clear. If you don’t follow these rules, then the police will enforce them. Police officers are now moving more quickly to handing out fines when they encounter breaches. And they have my absolute backing in doing so.”
New fines of £800 will be imposed on all those attending illegal gatherings of more than 15 people in private homes, doubling on each additional offence to a maximum of £6,400, she said.
“Such irresponsible behaviour poses a significant threat to public health,” said Ms Patel. “Not only to those in attendance, but also to our wonderful police officers who attend these events to shut them down.”
Mr Hewitt told the press conference that house parties at a time of coronavirus were “dangerous, irresponsible and totally unacceptable”.
He warned: “Gatherings where people are in close contact with each other in confined spaces will allow the virus to spread.
“And anyone who organises one will be given a fixed penalty notice and so will those who choose to attend. This is about saving lives.
“When we see people that are putting others and themselves in danger, we will not waste time trying to reason with them. They’re demonstrating no regard for the safety of others or even themselves.”
Some 250 fixed penalty notices of £10,000 fines have so far been issued against people organising large gatherings in defiance of lockdown rules in England, said Mr Hewitt.
And he described parties broken up by officers, including:
– A house party with 40 people in Brick Lane, east London, where drugs were found, three officers were injured and one hospitalised after being met with hostility from people crammed indoors.
– A party attended by over 150 people in a house in Hertfordshire, equipped with a music sound system.
– A site in Leighton Buzzard set up for a large part with a dance floor and speakers, attended by 50 people even after organisers had been warned by police to call the event off.
Mr Hewitt said that a police officer had contracted coronavirus after attending an anti-lockdown protest and revealed that in six months, 1,688 prosecutions have been brought over assaults on emergency service workers.
“Officers, staff and volunteers have been out there keeping communities safe and helping to prevent the spread of the virus,” he said.
“And the examples I give demonstrate how dangerous that role can be.
“The most effective way to reduce that risk is for people to comply with the regulations.”