Downing Street party: 'We feel like the government is laughing at us'

By Marie Jackson
BBC News

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With every lockdown, thousands of people across the country have been handed fines - or in some cases been locked up - for breaking Covid regulations, whether that be attending demos, hosting parties or having a drink in a neighbour's garden.

Some of those people now say it sticks in the throat to hear Prime Minister Boris Johnson admit he was at drinks in the Downing Street garden in May during the 2020 lockdown - something he says he thought was a work event.

Here are their stories.

'We held our hands up - now it's Boris Johnson's turn'

Media caption,
Kieron McArdle says: It's one rule for them and one rule for us

Like so many who lived alone, Kieron McArdle found lockdown particularly tough.

His grown-up children were living with their mother, golf clubs and gyms were closed and he'd been feeling low and isolated, something his close friends had picked up on.

With his birthday approaching and the weather unseasonably warm, they decided to cheer him up with a surprise visit to his home in Coleshill, Warwickshire, on 19 March last year.

The four of them set out socially-distanced chairs in the garden, and started chatting.

Within the hour, two police officers were at the door. The four friends were read their rights and cautioned - and ended up each paying a £100 fine.

"We held our hands up and said 'yes, we broke the rules' - and discussing it with my friends afterwards, we all agreed it was a chance we were willing to take," he told BBC Radio 5 Live.

However, knowing now that Boris Johnson was at a Downing Street party during an earlier lockdown, it "sticks in the throat", says Kieron, a 50-year-old company director.

"I feel Boris Johnson and the government are taking the country for fools - treating us with contempt," he says.

"It's one rule for us and one rule for them.

"We made a wrong decision and we've been punished accordingly. It's time for them to hold their hands up, apologise - and pay the fine that we had to pay."

Downing Street party row

'We feel like the government is laughing at us'

Image source, Getty Images

Tony and Joan - not their real names - had been having a torrid time.

Tony's elderly mother had been in hospital after a fall and his father was living with vascular dementia.

The couple, with a little help from their friends, had been doing all they could to help. Last January, Tony's father died.

A month later, Tony and Joan popped into his mum's and on the way back thought they'd drop a bottle of wine in to a friend as a thank you for cooking for Tony's dad during his illness.

The friend invited them in.

"We thought 'we've not had a drink for bloomin' ages,'" says Tony, who has asked not to be identified.

"We never thought we were doing anything wrong - we were only going to stop an hour."

Tony cracked open a beer, and Joan had a glass or two of wine - but 40 minutes later, the police burst in.

There were seven officers, dressed like paramilitaries, and five police vehicles, one with its siren going in this quiet Derbyshire village, says Tony.

"It was as though we'd done the Brinks Mat robbery."

The couple were taken to a police station where they were fingerprinted, photographed and locked up in separate cells for six hours.

Joan, who's never had a brush with the law - not even a speeding ticket - says it was surreal.

"We were both shocked - for me to be in that cell was ridiculous for having a drink with a mate."

The couple were eventually released at 5.30am - and charged on two counts, both of which were later dropped.

They ended up each paying a £100 fine, and £300 in legal fees.

They now say they have lost all trust in the police - and politicians.

"We feel like the government is laughing at us," says Tony, who dismissed Boris Johnson's apology as him trying to "wriggle out" of it.

"If he was a man, he should have stood up and admitted what he had done," he says.

'I feel really, really guilty - but PM gets away with it'

Image source, Getty Images

In November 2020, it was Amy's best friend's birthday and cause for a mini-celebration, she'd thought.

The Dundee student and her housemates grabbed a few bottles and headed round to her friend's flat late one evening.

The group knew they needed to be discreet as Covid restrictions in Scotland were ramping up in the run-up to Christmas, but it was nothing like the scale of some university parties they'd heard of.

The 10 of them sat around enjoying a drink or two for about an hour before six police officers knocked at the door.

"It was quite scary and intimidating," recalls Amy, now 20, who did not want to share her surname.

Each of them was taken off individually into another room to be interviewed, and given fines of £60 each.

"We felt really, really guilty, but we took full accountability for what we'd done," she tells 5 Live.

"In hindsight it was not a very smart thing to do. We'd thought 'it's only two households - we'd been following the rules in every other manner, it's our best friend's birthday'.

"We know now we should not have done that - we were selfish and we definitely look back on it with regret."

But since watching Boris Johnson admit to attending drinks in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 - with no repercussions, she's left feeling "small".

"It's the fact he did that - and nothing is happening. He's getting away with it."

She now wants to see the prime minister pay a fine - or others who did pay get a refund.

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