Dozens of people were placed at unnecessary risk of the coronavirus because of a ‘ridiculous’ decision to arrest a group of people for being in enclosed premises, a solicitor representing a 17-year-old member of the group has said.

The teenager was one of six people arrested in the middle of the night last week under the Vagrancy Act. His solicitor, Keima Payton, of London firm Payton’s Solicitors, said the charge sheet contained a second offence under schedule 22 of the Coronavirus Act in relation to events, gatherings and premises.

After asking for a review of the charging decision, Payton said the CPS withdrew the charges. However, she told the Gazette she left court approximately 34 hours after her client was arrested.

She said: ‘You can see how this one ridiculous situation is. The decision to charge has probably quadrupled the number of people who have come into contact with this group. He’s 17. There was no option for a remote hearing. Had there been I would still have gone down there to see what’s going on. This is not good policing. If police do not deal with these matters properly, they they put us all at risk.

‘They could have dealt with enclosed premises by street bailing to come back to the police station on a date in the future. If an arrest is necessary, their job should be getting people in and out as quickly as possible. If it’s not serious, do not keep them in the station, try at all costs to avoid taking them to the station at all.’

Payton said dozens of people came into close contact with one or more of the group – arresting officers at the scene, interviewing officers, appropriate adults, custody staff, other prisoners in custody, as well as court staff, lawyers and youth offending team workers. ‘The irony is that having been arrested in a flat, the court would have permitted them to socially gather in the dock had I not asked how wide it was,' she said.

Christopher Maynard, deputy head of crime and extradition at Brighton firm McMillian Williams, said it was important in the current climate that police do not lose sight of the overriding objective of coronavirus legislation – to limit the spread of Covid-19 as much as possible.

He said: ‘It seems counterintuitive to suggest that the best way to achieve this aim is to bring multiple defendants to court in custody, thereby exposing a substantial number of people to the risk of contracting this disease - from police officers and defendants to court staff, lawyers and cell staff. The public interest in making an example of these defendants by bringing them to court in custody should not result in a greater risk of spreading Covid-19 when the matter could have been appropriately dealt with by police bail or the issuing of postal summonses.’


*The Law Society is keeping the coronavirus situation under review and monitoring the advice it receives from the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Public Health England.