Peterlee woman fined £500 for Covid-breach balloon launch

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Vicki Hutchinson admitted organising the event in breach of lockdown rules

A woman who organised a balloon launch in memory of her father-in-law in breach of the coronavirus lockdown laws in November has been fined £500.

Vicki Hutchison had refused to pay a £10,000 fixed penalty for holding the gathering of more than 30 people.

She was summonsed before Peterlee magistrates where she admitted the offence, and had to pay £135 costs.

The launch in Horden was held in memory of Ian Stephenson, 58, who died from a Covid-related illness.

The court heard Hutchinson, a tanning salon owner, posted an invitation to the event on Facebook on 11 November.

The 34-year-old, of Ennerdale Close, Peterlee, also urged people to wear masks and socially distance in the post.

No police officers attended and there was no disorder during the gathering by St Mary's Church.

But following a complaint, police investigated and analysed a livestream of the event which showed there were more than 30 people.

It also showed many people did not keep apart or wear masks, the court heard.

District Judge Tim Capstick set the fine after hearing her tanning business had only just reopened.

He said the regulations were in place to reduce the risk of people spreading the virus.

'Right to do things'

The judge said many thousands of families had lost loved ones to Covid, as she had done.

"They complied with the regulations and you chose to break them," he told her.

Outside court, Hutchinson said she accepted the fine but could not have paid the £10,000 fixed penalty.

She said: "I'm not a celebrity, I'm a normal person who runs a business.

"I'm happy with what they did today, yes I did break the law, yes I did release balloons, but at the time, when you lose someone, you don't think, do you?

"There will be some people who say you shouldn't have done it because we were in lockdown but I believe we should have the right to do things.

"We are not caged animals that have been shoved in the house.

"The way it made my family feel, and the smiles it put on people's faces, I had to do it."

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