Police battle to shut down illegal raves in Norfolk and Wales as 3,000 people descend on rural village

Police are attempting to shut down illegal raves in Norfolk and Wales on the first weekend of tightened restrictions on gatherings.

Hundreds of people flocked to unlicensed musical events over the bank holiday weekend despite new rules saying organisers will be hit with £10,000 fines.

Norfolk Police said it was “extremely disappointing” that revellers had decided to gather in Thetford Forest, and that the force would have to deploy extra resources to close the event down.

Assistant Chief Constable Nick Davison, who is leading the Norfolk Police operation, said a drone unit, dogs, the National Police Air Service helicopter and specially-trained public order officers had all been deployed to an isolated area in the forest, near to the English Heritage site Grimes Graves.

He said it was clear that “well-established and planned event” was due to continue into Monday and the force was working to “close the event down in a controlled manner, taking the safety of those in attendance and our officers into account”.

“It’s extremely disappointing to see these types of events taking place when the rest of our communities are doing everything they can to help stop the spread of the virus,” said Assistant Chief Constable Davison.

Police were also at the scene of a “large gathering of people for a rave in the Banwen area” of Neath Port Talbot in Wales on Sunday.

South Wales Police condemned the “irresponsible” actions of those involved.

“We are working to engage with organisers and attendees in order to remind them of their obligations under the current coronavirus legislation and the overarching goal for everyone to take personal responsibility by following Welsh Government regulations to keep Wales safe,” said South Wales Police.

Chief Superintendent Simon Belcher added: “This type of illegal gathering is totally unacceptable and we are aware of the concerns it is causing for the local community.

“I would like to again remind people of their obligations under the current coronavirus legislation and the overarching goal for everyone to take personal responsibility by following Welsh Government regulations to Keep Wales Safe.

“It has been estimated there are up to 3,000 people at the gathering who have apparently travelled from across the UK and we are looking at all pieces of legislation as to what action can be undertaken safely.

“Unlawfully parked cars will be dealt with and people who continue, despite our advice to try and attend this illegal event area being turned away.”

West Yorkshire Police said a man has been charged with causing a public nuisance after officers broke up a street party on Wepener Mount, Harehills, on Saturday.

Five other people at the gathering were fined.

Meanwhile, thousands of pounds worth of equipment was seized by Essex Police ahead of an unlicensed music event the force said was due to take place in Harlow on Saturday afternoon.

Chief Inspector Lewis Basford said organisers of such events should ask themselves if it was worth the risk of the new fines.

West Midlands Police said it had dealt with about 90 reports from the public about possible breaches of restrictions by Sunday morning “but we’ve not had to use our enforcement powers”.

National vice chair of the Police Federation of England and Wales Che Donald said the legislation should be clearer to allow policing to be “more effective”.

He said: “Our police officers are doing an incredibly difficult job in testing circumstances but as always, they will be ready to deal with anything that may come their way over the long bank holiday weekend.”

Metropolitan Police Federation chairman Ken Marsh also called for clarity around the new legislation which he said would allow officers to “be more forceful clearing the area immediately, close the area down”.

Andy Rhodes, Chief Constable of Lancashire Constabulary, argued confusion over the guidelines is being used by some as an “excuse” to break the rules.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the new rules, which came into force on Friday, saying it represents a crackdown on “the most serious breaches of social distancing restrictions”.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, she said: “We will not allow this breathtakingly selfish behaviour from a senseless minority to jeopardise the progress we have made together.”

The Metropolitan Police force alone has responded to more than 1,000 unlicensed events since the end of June.