Both Stanley Johnson and the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn were caught out breaking Covid-19 rules this week.
Mr Johnson was photographed shopping in a newsagents without a face mask, and a picture emerged of Mr Corbyn having dinner with more than six guests.
Both men – who have issued apologies – could face fines of up to £200 under recent changes to the law.
Labour shadow health minister Rosena Allin-Khan said that she believed Mr Corbyn should be fined for his breach. Confusingly, she also said in an interview with GMB this morning that he had “been fined”. But we haven’t been able to clear this up with Labour.
Ms Allin-Khan said: “Everybody should be fined that breaks the rules.” But that isn’t how police forces in England and Wales are approaching Covid-19 restrictions.
Boris Johnson’s spokesman said today: “The prime minister is clear that the rules apply to everyone and everyone should follow them.”
But there have been no reports of his father paying a fine for not wearing a mask, leading some commentators to complain of unfairness.
Is the Prime Minister’s father getting off lightly, where most people would have to stump up £200?
In fact the latest figures suggest police are generally slow to issue fines to anyone for not wearing a face covering.
Stats published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) show that just 89 fines were issued for breaches of the face coverings regulations across the whole of England and Wales from June 15 to 21 September.
Of these, 61 related to offences on public transport and only 28 breaches happened in other public settings like shops.
This isn’t entirely surprising, since most cases of people refusing or forgetting to wear masks won’t be dealt with by police, and officers only issue fines as a last resort.
The NPCC said police wouldn’t be called “in the vast majority of cases”, adding: “Prior to police involvement, transport staff will use their discretion and may even prevent passengers in breach from travelling, with many individuals simply ending their journey or proceeding to wear a face covering at that point.
“These are matters which will be resolved by staff in the first instance within retail settings, and businesses, local authorities and licensing authorities will have responsibility for ensuring premises are compliant and Covid-safe.”
Rule of Six
What about Mr Corbyn’s breach of the rule that people should meet in groups of six or less when seeing friends or family they don’t live with.
Again, the total numbers of fines issued here is low – only 15 so far across England. But that’s in one week: the rule only became effective from September 14 and we only have data up to September 21.
So the figures are limited and could undercount the real number because of lags in data processing.
As with face masks, the police have said that they will only fine people for these kinds of breaches if all else fails.
The NPCC says: “Fines are issued as a last resort after initial attempts to engage with the public to explain and encourage compliance with the new regulations have not been successful.”
It’s clear from the data that the vast majority of fixed penalty notices were handed out to people who broke the rules on restricted movement in force during the emergency period of the pandemic in April and May.
As lockdown measures were eased later, the number of fines fell steeply:
Of all fines issued between March 27 and August 17, only around 1 per cent related to illegal gatherings and socialising.
Will police seek to prosecute people whenever evidence emerges of them breaking the rules, like the photographs of Stanley Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn? The Met Police say not.
A spokesman told us: “As a matter of course the MPS is not investigating Covid-related issues retrospectively.
“Where we become aware of a breach occurring, officers will seek to engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules, only enforcing as a last resort.
“Where alleged breaches are brought to our attention after the event, officers will not have not had the opportunity to engage, explain or encourage, and those involved will not have not had the opportunity to respond positively to that process – as most people do.
“Therefore, it would not be appropriate or an effective use of resources in most circumstances to investigate or pursue enforcement. We encourage everyone to make themselves aware of, and to follow, the rules.”
Both Jeremy Corbyn and Stanley Johnson have admitted they broke Covid-19 regulations and apologised.
Some have called for the police to take action against them.
While police do have powers to fine people who don’t wear masks in shops and who break the “rule of six”, forces in England and Wales have said they will only do so as a “last resort” and the numbers of people being issued with fixed penalties is very low.
And the Metropolitan Police has told FactCheck its officers will not generally pursue people retrospectively – famous or otherwise – if photographs emerge of them breaking the rules.