Police demand to search student property after wrongly believing a party was taking place

The students had been playing a card game

Whilst confrontation between Covid marshals and students has been an ongoing dilemma over the past few weeks since lockdown restarted, it is evident that the friction between these two groups has reached a new level. One incident, in particular, made news on Saturday 28th November, when a group of Covid marshals and police demanded entry into a property despite residents claiming they had no reason to let them in, as they had not broken any social distancing rules.

Luke Anderson, who recently moved in with his girlfriend Mollie and her flatmates amid the second lockdown, was greeted by a group of six police officers and Covid marshals at the property in Sunbury Road, Jesmond, in the early hours of Saturday morning after they suspected a party had been taking place. Anderson claims he had been playing a card game whilst listening to music from a speaker at the time when the altercation started at approximately 12:45am.

Upon refusing to open the door, Anderson spoke to the group through the front living room window. The police then demanded he let them search the house,  saying: “Open the door and let me see who’s in and if there are no issues then we can leave”.

Northumbria Police told The Newcastle Tab that students were not being specifically targeted, and that “all members of the public are treated the same”.

Despite the Northumbria student informing the group that they were not having a party, only listening to music, the officers continued to press them to open the door.

Mollie repeatedly pleaded with the officers for an alternative method in which all residents of the property would come to the door. However, the female officer replied, “that’s not enough for us, we need to check the house.” Mollie questioned if they had a warrant to search the property, while they continued to shine a torch over the house in an attempt to find anyone breaking social distancing rules.

With two of the residents choosing to return home for lockdown, Luke informed the authorities that these rooms were locked and that the residents would prefer for them to not be opened over fears that officers would break into and damage these rooms.

The group continued to reason with the students, with both sides eventually acquiescing to one officer entering the property alone. Inside, he found no extra members of the household or a party as they had previously expected. Upon leaving the property, the officers took Mollie’s details, including her university and course.

Luke told officers at the door that this wasn’t the first time in which he had had clashes with law enforcement, saying: “We’ve had issues with the police before, and they’ve come round and been very, very aggressive”. He told The Newcastle Tab that his previous negative experience resulted in his refusal to let them in.

Covid marshals patrol the streets of Newcastle most evenings to ensure all residents are following government social distancing guidelines. Over the last few weeks, they appear to have targeted Jesmond as a hotspot for rule-breakers, leading to increased patrolling of the area.

Since the incident took place, Luke has vented his frustration on the situation. When asked about the Covid marshals he replied: “They’re abusing their authority. They’ve not got students on their side because they’re wasting police resources by calling them every two seconds when they see a light or hear some music”.

Anna Brooks, a Newcastle student who lives directly opposite the West Jesmond property was awoken by the confrontation and witnessed the altercation unfold between her neighbours and the police. Anna told The Newcastle Tab: “Towards the end of the evening when I went to bed, there was no noise coming from the house. If a party had taken place, we’d have definitely heard it. It was just a normal Friday night”.

Brooks also expressed her concern at the recent increase of Covid marshals in her street over the last few weeks, who she claims to have observed deliberately opening letterboxes in an attempt to catch those breaking the rules.

The confrontation follows weeks of relentless unrest between Covid marshals and university students living in the popular residential suburb of Jesmond. Whilst many households in the neighbourhood have grown used to the presence of the marshals, not all students agree. Georgia Smith, an eyewitness in the area, observed the altercation between Luke and the police from her bedroom window, about which she recalled: “The marshals were very intimidating and patronising. That poor girl was really stressed out by the whole ordeal”.  

Covid marshals have been placed around the UK to ease pressure on the police over the lockdown period. Their main roles include supporting the public with social distancing, ensuring face coverings are worn when needed and managing the flow of queues where necessary.

A Northumbria Police spokesperson said: “We can confirm we attended an address on Saturday evening following reports from Covid marshals that a number of people were inside an address playing loud music. Officers attended to enquire as to whether there had been any breach of the current regulations. We spoke to an occupant of the address and officers asked to come inside to confirm those in attendance lived at the property in question. The occupant suggested those inside came to the door to be counted but officers still required entry to ensure nobody else was inside the property. Officers were granted access to the address and were able to confirm that there were no breaches of the legislation.”

The spokesperson added: “We do have powers to enter properties to establish that members of the public are abiding by the regulations that have been introduced to save lives. This type of engagement is a consequence of the unprecedented times we live in and is taking place across the entire force area and country, it is not specific to our student communities and all members of the public are treated the same. Many student properties have large numbers of residents and this can be mistaken for a party by those who report breaches to police. Officers are duty bound to investigate those concerns and, as a result of those reports, we have disrupted a numbers of parties and issued a number of fines. However, the majority of students have adhered by the rules and we want to thank the student population for their co-operation during the pandemic.”

A Northumbria University spokesperson said: “We are concerned to hear reports of these alleged incidents and have passed these on for investigation. In the meantime, if any Northumbria student has any concerns around their own safety and wellbeing, they can contact University Security at any time, either via the Security Helpline or through the SafeZone app.”

Following concerns raised, the Council is investigating the alleged incident. A spokesperson for Newcastle City Council said: “We closely monitor the work of our SIA licensed patrols as they politely engage, educate, encourage and, when appropriate, enforce Covid regulations as part of Operation Oak.

“We aim to maintain the highest standards when interacting with the public and all of the security staff carry identification, are equipped with body worn cameras, and have vehicles that are tracked, so that should anyone contact us with any concerns we can immediately investigate.

“We know that some students would prefer our patrols not to be there but the fact they have responded to over 800 incidents so far, including medical emergencies, assisting people who are heavily intoxicated, as well as dealing with Covid breaches and inconsiderate behaviour shows that they are very much needed.

“Thankfully, overall, the work of the police and our teams have been well received with positive feedback that they have helped calm community tensions in Jesmond, given reassurance to residents, and even helped to prevent burglaries.

“Where allegations have been made and passed onto us by the universities, investigations have found that the evidence does not corroborate the claims being made, but that does not mean we are complacent and will look into any issues highlighted to us.

“We appreciate this continues to be an unusual time for everyone, but our staff are in place to help keep people safe and reduce transmission of the virus.

“We must ask all residents, including students, to continue to comply with regulations, including the requirement not to mix households, and to be considerate to others.”

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