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Botanical Gardens party organiser arrested for Covid-19 breaches

Renée Ming, the national security minister, centre, with Assistant Commissioner of Police Martin Weekes, left, and Steve Cosham, the National Disaster Coordinator (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

The organiser of a rule-breaking party in the Botanical Gardens last weekend has been arrested, police revealed yesterday.

It was also revealed that fixed penalties were in the pipeline to slap violators of Covid-19 health restrictions with on-the-spot fines.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Martin Weekes said the planner of the Botanical Gardens event last Friday night would “absolutely” appear before the courts for the breach of Covid-19 regulations at the bash, which was held in the Horticultural Hall at the Paget beauty spot.

Mr Weekes added others who were at the event could also be charged.

The event led to a ban by the Department of Parks on night-time gatherings at parks and beaches as the island remained under curfew after a rise in coronavirus cases.

The news came as he revealed that 175 files for breaches “across the whole of the Covid regulations” were on their way to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Mr Weekes said: “I can tell you we have arrested someone this week for the big event at the Botanical Gardens.

“They were in the custody of our cells yesterday.

“We arrest when we have to. We prefer not to arrest because, especially when dealing with anything Covid-related, bringing someone into custody and being that close – we do not want to have to do that.”

Mr Weekes added that “people were fleeing in all directions” when officers arrived at the Botanical Gardens event, where about 100 revellers broke the 25-person limit on gatherings.

He said guests were not wearing masks or sticking to social distancing.

Mr Weekes added: “One of the main powers we have is dispersal. We want to get people apart.”

He was speaking as he appeared with Renée Ming, the national security minister, in the wake of a string of recent house parties and other gatherings that have been blamed for a spike in coronavirus cases.

Ms Ming said: “This should be concerning to the community.

“Also concerning are recent activities that have taken place that are in direct violation of the regulations.”

Ms Ming emphasised that “the majority of the community are adhering to the guidelines”.

But she said the DPP had been sent six files so far for “private individuals who violated Covid regulations on gatherings”.

She added: “Five persons were prosecuted.

“Two received convictions and three are pending trial.”

Ms Ming added that two convictions were notched up by an individual.

She said: “We have also received repeated queries about the fixed penalty legislation proposed and about the penalties for those individuals who were at the recent parties and events.

“Regarding the fixed penalty legislation, I can advise that the Ministry of Health has prepared a proposal for legislation that would see fixed penalties apply for a finite set of material breaches of COVID-19 regulations.

“This legislation continues to be worked on and is advancing.

“It is unlikely that it will be retroactive once it comes into effect.”

Ms Ming said she understood the community’s “outrage” at people who broke the law, as well as the “frustration at the perception that not enough is being done to hold those accountable who blatantly break the law”.

But she told the public: “I can assure you that the Ministry of National Security, the Bermuda Police Service and the Department of Public Prosecutions are diligently taking steps to exact penalties against those who violate the Public Health Act.”

She appealed for the public to take “personal responsibility” to keep themselves and others safe.

Mr Weekes warned it would take time before cases referred to the DPP would appear in court.

He said: “Those of us who have ever received a traffic ticket know the time before going to court, even pre-Covid, can sometimes be up to six months.”

⋅ To read the minister’s statement in full, click on the PDF under “Related Media”.

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Published March 12, 2021 at 7:49 am (Updated March 12, 2021 at 8:26 am)

Botanical Gardens party organiser arrested for Covid-19 breaches

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