taff at a popular Notting Hill fish shop were given Covid-19 fines for breaking lockdown after they were told to attend a “work meeting” at their boss’s home, a court heard.
Police were called out in January last year after reports of a “gathering” taking place in the living room of entrepreneur Chris D’Sylva’s basement flat in Stanley Gardens, Notting Hill.
Nine members of staff from the Notting Hill Fish + Meat Shop were in the midst of a “business meeting”, Westminster magistrates court heard, and were issued with fines for breaking the government’s Covid-19 rules.
The Met Police approach to the incident could shed light on the force’s handling of Partygate scandal, where Downing Street staff face possible fines for attending gatherings in their place of work.
One of the incidents under investigation is an alleged gathering in Boris Johnson’s private flat at Number 10, with unnamed sources suggesting that the Prime Minister may escape censure because he was working at the time.
Mr Johnson, who has been questioned under caution by police in the form of a written questionnaire, previously defended his presence at a Downing Street garden party, saying: “When I went out into that garden I thought that I was attending a work event.”
Details of the Notting Hill fish shop incident came to light after one of the staff, Anya Braimer Jones, was prosecuted for not paying the £200 fine, and claimed she had been “forced” to attend the meeting in spite of lockdown rules.
“My former boss, Chris D’Sylva of Notting Hill + Meat Shop, summoned me to attend a work meeting on January 27, 2021,” she said in a letter to magistrates.
“I was frightened that I’d be fired from my job if I didn’t comply. I accept fully that I was present at that meeting, along with eight colleagues; all of whom had also been told they had to attend. I am deeply sorry.”
Jones, 26, said she has since quit the company and is taking her former employer to an employment tribunal, adding: “Mr D’Sylva is the type of boss that expects you to comply with all such instructions without argument.
“I felt incredible uncomfortable at being there – given that the area was subject to Tier 4 lockdown rules at the time – but I was scared about losing my job during a pandemic when it would have been impossible to find alternative employment.”
PC Johnny Casey, who broke up the business meeting at around 6.30pm on January 27, 2021, said police were alerted by a member of the public who saw the gathering through a window.
“I could see a number of people sitting within what appeared to be a living room”, the officer said. “It appeared to me as though there was less than a two metre gap between each of them.”
He said Mr D’Sylva was questioned about why the meeting, to discuss strategy after the departure of the general manager, could not have taken place online, and he replied: “I didn’t think of it, we just needed to get together.”
Jones, from Kensal Rise, said she did not receive the Fixed Penalty Notice as it had become mixed with mail for her sick mother, and she claimed Mr D’Sylva had promised to pay the penalties for his staff.
She provided WhatsApp messages, appearing to show Mr D’Sylva offering to pay the fines, telling staff the £200 penalty would be reduced to £100 if paid within two weeks, and adding: “#halfpriceparties”.
He later texted: “I’m clearly paying for it all btw just in case that wasn’t clear.”
Jones pleaded guilty to breaking the lockdown restrictions and a magistrate rejected her request to be allowed to pay the original £100 penalty, fining her £625 and ordered to pay £152 in court costs and fees.
One of her colleagues who was also accused of being at the business meeting, Isabella Kershaw, was prosecuted by the Met using exact the same evidence statements.
However the magistrate, sitting in a behind-closed-doors hearing in the Single Justice Procedure, decided to dismiss the case against Ms Kershaw.
Mr D’Sylva and the Notting Hill Fish + Meat Shop have been contacted for comment.