People of black, asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds were at least 50 per cent more likely to receive coronavirus lockdown fines compared to those who are white, MPs have been told.
The figures were discussed during the Commons Home Affairs Committee sessions which is examining the policing of people from BAME backgrounds.
Mirren Gidda, a journalist at Liberty Investigates, which is part of the human rights campaign group Liberty, told the committee her analysis of police figures showed overall that BAME people were 54% more likely to be given a fixed penalty notice (FPN) than white people in England.
But figures for some individual forces were higher.
Ben Bowling, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at King’s College London, told the committee the figures were “disappointing and troubling”, adding: “It seems to me they are indicative of, and support evidence of, a pattern of disproportionate policing against black and minority ethnic communities which has persisted over time.”
Analysis by the PA news agency of figures provided by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) of fines issued between March 27 and June 8 suggested the rate was 50% higher for FPNs handed to people who were not white.
Comparing the number of fines to the population, using estimates broken down by ethnicity from the Office for National Statistics, indicated the number handed to white people was around 20 per every 100,000.
For those from BAME backgrounds, this was 30 fines per 100,000 people.
Katrina Ffrench, chief executive of the StopWatch campaign group, told the committee the organisation had witnessed key workers “being targeted by the police”.
She added: “It’s unfortunate to say but we strongly believe it’s because of their skin colour and perceptions those people are out up to no good rather than being law-abiding citizens.”
She suggested a lack of transparency of data showing the ethnicity of people stopped by officers was because police were “quite embarrassed” at the treatment of those from BAME backgrounds, adding: “This isn’t new. This is a systemic issue that has blighted our society for a generation.”
The comments came as fresh figures emerged which suggested some police forces in England and Wales were more than six times more likely to fine people from BAME backgrounds than white people.
Some 17 police forces were more likely to issue a penalty notice to BAME people than to white people, according to data obtained from police forces by the Guardian and Liberty Investigates.
Ms Gidda told the committee the findings showed Cumbria Police were 6.8 times more likely to fine BAME people as opposed to white people and that this rate was around 4.4 in Avon and Somerset and Lincolnshire forces.
Because of flaws in initial data provided by the NPCC, the body was “able to claim the fines were being issued proportionately when they weren’t”, she said, adding that once the information was adjusted “it was clear that BAME people were being disproportionately fined”.
Ms Gidda said this “throws into question the validity of the fines”, adding: “There are case studies of BAME people who have been issued FPNs that seem to have been issued unlawfully, and that have been the subject, or are the subject, of legal challenges.”
Rosalind Comyn, Liberty’s policy and campaigns officer, told the committee it was “incredibly important” there was a “wholesale review of the fines and that people have a right to appeal against fines”, adding: “At the moment, the only avenue to challenge a fine is to refuse to pay it and risk prosecution.”
Labour member Diane Abbott said, despite requests from the committee, the NPCC “seems to be refusing to publish” the detailed statistics.
Ms Gidda said the National Black Police Association had also requested the information, adding: “The frustration is that they (the NPCC) hold it, they know that there are issues and they are still not publishing it.”
The NPCC said the detailed analysis would include an “assessment of whether there is any significant ethnic disproportionality in the fines issued” among forces and the findings would be published “as soon as we are able to do so”.
The body has also set up an independent ethics committee to provide “further support and scrutiny” over its response to coronavirus but has “no plans” as yet to carry out any other reviews, a spokesman added.
An NPCC representative was expected to give evidence to the committee next week.
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