Court documents showing how people begged police not to fine them for COVID lockdown infractions surfaced on Wednesday as Boris Johnson fought to save his job over allegations he attended a party in his garden during lockdown.
A slew of emotive pleas in mitigation were posted on Twitter by Tristan Kirk, courts correspondent for the Evening Standard, and shared thousands of times as Johnson’s position as Prime Minister became increasingly untenable.
The documents show that one woman was issued with a £250 fine as well as a £34 victim surcharge and £85 in costs last year, for an “unintentional” breach when she went to a friend’s house to give her a birthday card.
“I didn’t realise there would be other people present”, she said while pleading guilty in a written statement. “I did not enter the property.”
“I apologise for breaking the Covid rules”, she added. “It was not intentional, matters got out of hand and I could not avoid.”
Another woman from Hackney, East London, was fined £12,000 for organising a party in 2021 the day after two parties were held in Downing Street.
One pensioner from Brockley, south London, who was already in debt, was fined £100 because he met some friends at an allotment. "I am a sick person with heart failure and other problems. I went to the allotment to get some greens as I don't eat meat. I am a pensioner struggling to pay my way and in debt already. I did not wish to break the law", he said.
Around 2,500 people have been fined in London alone for breaking coronavirus regulations.
The stories emerged as Boris Johnson pleaded ignorance of the rules for a party which took place in his back garden at the height of lockdown in 2020.
He has also apologised to Buckingham Palace for parties held on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral, which the Queen sat through alone.
The Prime Minister and his Conservative allies have pointed to an investigation into the nine parties that were held in Downing Street, but they are still threatening to end his tenure as Prime Minister.
Talking to Sky News on Tuesday, Johnson, who told the population to stick to the rules in repeated TV appearances, claimed of the party that “nobody had warned me it was against the rules”.
He added: “If I had my time again, I would not have allowed things to develop in that way. And when I went out into that garden, yes, I should probably have told people, I should have looked around and said ‘well, we’ve got to go back indoors,’ or ‘this isn’t the right way to do things.’”
The interview was ridiculed and reignited calls for his resignation.
Christian Wakeford, MP for Bury South - a “red wall” constituency that the Tories won in 2019 for the first time from Labour since 1997 - defected to the Labour Party.
At Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, Johnson responded to Labour leader Keir Starmer asking if he would resign by saying, “he’s wasting people’s time”
Former Brexit Minister David Davis, said he had spent “weeks and months defending the Prime Minister”, but now quoted Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain, in a debate which prompted Chamberlain to resign, paving the way for Winston Churchill to become Prime Minister. "You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go!"
Despite only being Wednesday, it has been another torrid week for Johnson, which has seen MPs openly discussing his resignation, and a former health secretary indulging in press stunts in preparation for a leadership bid.
Over the weekend, the momentum of calls for his resignation seemed to slow albeit briefly, after a last ditch effort to save his premiership. Johnson’s government launched “Operation Red Meat” – a number of headline grabbing policies designed to convince Conservative MPs and the right-wing press to rally around the embattled PM.
The TV licence fee which funds the BBC would be abolished, it was announced, a policy designed to appease Conservative MPs and media owners who are in competition with the state broadcaster.
In another attention grabbing announcement, Home Secretary Priti Patel confirmed that she would call in the navy to deal with the “little boats” of migrants arriving on Britain’s shores. There were reports that migrants would be resettled in countries such as Ghana.
These policies were subsequently watered down or denied, fuelling media speculation that they were used as a distraction tactic.
On Monday, culture secretary Nadine Dorries softened her earlier stance on the licence fee, saying only that it would be frozen, and that it was not certain it would be abolished.
Navy sources said they had little interest in carrying out a “pushback” policy against migrant boats.
The Ghanaian foreign ministry released a statement denying that it had discussed plans to resettle migrants as part of what it called “Operation Dead Meat”.
The spotlight moved away from questions over Johnson’s resignation, but only briefly. On Monday intervention from former Downing Street advisor Dominic Cummings renewed the pressure.
Cummings said that he was willing to swear under oath that Johnson lied to parliament when he claimed not to have known that the party was a party, believing it was instead a work event. Cummings claimed that an email shows a senior official warning that the event would break the rules and that Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principle private secretary, said he would check with Johnson whether he was happy for it to proceed.
Johnson’s Sky News appearance on Tuesday generated more negative headlines, and Conservative MPs met to discuss Johnson’s future.
Fifty-four Conservative MPs must write to the chair of the 1922 committee of backbench MPs in order to trigger a vote of no confidence, and lobby correspondents are currently speculating over just how many letters have been sent.