Peterlee woman's Covid fine cut from £10,000 to £635 for balloon release

A woman from Peterlee says she is happy to pay a Covid fine of more than £600 after it was cut down from £10,000.

34-year-old Vicki Hutchinson's father-in-law, Ian Stephenson, died in November. This prompted more than 30 people to release balloons in his memory when a "stay at home" order was in force.

Ian Stephenson died in November. The well-liked 58-year-old former miner died from a Covid-related illness, the court heard.

The fine was reduced after she attended Peterlee Magistrates' Court on Friday (23 April) to admit the offence, based on her ability to pay.

On 11 November, the mother-of-three who owns a tanning salon had posted an invitation on her Facebook page for friends and family of Ian Stephenson to attend a balloon release on a field opposite the church where his funeral was due to take place in the following days.

The well-liked 58-year-old former miner had just died from a Covid-related illness, the court heard.

Hutchinson, of Ennerdale Close, Peterlee, also urged people to wear masks and socially distance in her Facebook post.

No police officers attended and there was no disorder during the gathering by St Mary's Church, Horden. But following a complaint, police investigated and analysed a livestream of the event which showed there was an unknown number of people there, which was more than 30. The video showed many people did not keep apart or wear masks, the court heard.

District Judge Tim Capstick set the fine at £500, plus another £135 in costs, 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. The judge said many thousands of families had lost loved ones to Covid, as she had done.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.