‘Ghost-hunting’ and ‘takeaways’ among excuses for Covid-19 travel ban breaches in Scotland
Many people in Scotland who breached travel restrictions during the pandemic were hillwalkers and campers, according to police reports uncovered by the BBC.
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But the documents, obtained under freedom of information laws, also revealed offenders listed ghost-hunting, boredom and takeaways as excuses for why they went outside of their council areas.
Police were given the power to fine those breaking the travel rules on November 20 last year. Officers have since issued more than 900 travel-related fines.
The fines start at £30 and double to £60 if they are not paid within 28 days. Repeat offenders can face fines of up to £960.
In mid April, travel rules were lifted across Scotland.
For the first time, the BBC has reported the specific nature of the travel breach incidents for which people were fined. The anecdotal accounts were listed within internal weekly reports for Operation Talla - the name for Police Scotland’s response to the pandemic.
Until January these internal briefings only listed details of illegal house parts attended by officers.
Among the incidents was one in North Berwick, where police found three men in a parked car who had travelled outside their council area. After finishing work they had driven to get a takeaway as they were “bored.”
In Dumfries and Galloway, officers stopped a man in Stranraer who was planning to board a ferry to Northern Ireland to place a bet.
In Renfrewshire, three vehicles containing eight people from five different households arrived at derelict premises for the purposes of ghost-hunting. They were all from outside their council area.
Police also attended Glen Nevis in Lochaber following reports of a vehicle rolling down a river bank into the River Nevis. The vehicle belonged to a person who had travelled from a different council area.
The BBC said many of the anecdotal accounts from police related to hillwalkers travelling to climb hills such as Ben Cruachan, Ben A’an and Conic Hill.
The figures suggest travel-related breaches were declining before the lifting of the travel ban on April 16 - but it is likely the number of breaches since January is much higher. When they received their new powers in November, police made it clear they would not be routinely stopping vehicles or setting up roadblocks.
Most offenders were only caught by officers carrying out their daily duties.
The documents also showed police were called to hundreds of house parties every week since the start of January. Police were given the power to break up house parties breaching social gathering rules in August last year. Since that date, officers have been called out nearly 8,000 times.
But it is thought the number will be higher given house gatherings are usually under reported.
One incident in Edinburgh involved ten men from different households renting a short-term let to watch football. They refused to accept police advice and all of them were fined.
In Fife, following reports of a loud house party, police found 20 people with an inflatable pub in a back garden.
And in Tayside a rave with a live DJ, drones and 70 people attending was reported to police.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Speirs said: "Police Scotland increased patrols in our communities following travel restrictions being imposed as part of the national effort to suppress the spread of coronavirus.
"Our approach throughout the pandemic has not changed. Officers will engage with the public, explain the legislation and encourage compliance, but will not hesitate to use enforcement as a last resort.
“This approach will remain as, hopefully, restrictions continue to be eased over the coming months and we move back to a more normal way of life.”