Britain’s illegal coronavirus raves are impossible to police

UniversalImagesGroup via Getty Images

After months under lockdown, young Britains have seemingly had enough. In recent weeks, people right across the UK have taken to desolate woodlands and quiet fields, motorway underpasses and warehouses to attend elicit parties and underground raves.
As last weekend’s raves in Manchester dangerously underscore, policing illegal raves in 2020 is a whole lot harder to do. No longer spreading by word of mouth, today’s raves and intimate house parties are instead being secretly planned and organised over social media platforms.


In Oldham, Greater Manchester, 4,000 people attended a so-called quarantine rave in Daisy Nook Country Park where a 20-year-old man died of a suspected drug overdose. Across town in Carrington, a further 2,000 revellers gathered on waste ground where a woman was raped and three people were reportedly stabbed. “The whole situation should not have taken place,” says Debbie Barratt-Cole, an Oldham resident, who turned up to help clean up the litter left by the rave. “I understand the youth of today needed to get out after lockdown but even they must have thought this is not a good idea.”
Since lockdown was enforced on March 24, illegal raves have been increasingly common, despite mass gatherings not being allowed under current lockdown regulations. In May, police dispersed a 70-person rave in a park in Telford. A week later, 200 people took part in an overnight rave in a nature reserve in Leeds – three people were arrested. There were raves at Paintball Airsoft Lasertag in Merseyside, Botany Bay and several in London. Many are being organised underground with the use of social media, and they’re predicted to get more frequent this summer as clubs and bars remain closed.
James Morsh, director of UK collective Nitty, hosted the first council-approved socially distant rave in a forest near Nottingham back in May. Run as part of a documentary film about socially distant events in Britain, 40 attendees were instructed to keep two metres apart at all times and were provided with KN95 face masks and bottles of hand sanitiser. Morsh says there would have been hundreds of parties taking place in the UK last weekend. “There would have been 20 more parties in Manchester,” he says. “All the other parties, probably nothing happened. Everyone had a good time. They cleaned up and they went home.”The problem, Morsh says, is that the two raves in Manchester got too big, making things more difficult to control, especially if they aren’t professionally run. “The sound setup and the DJ decks were basic. In my opinion, it looked like a few kids had just thrown a party,” he says. While the rave in Carrington was reportedly charging £30 a wristband to enter the event, Morsh points out that that doesn’t necessarily mean that the operation was as sophisticated. “A wristband just means they’re trying to make money. If it was done in a professional way, you’d have a clean-up team in operation and you’d have security.”
Many of these unlicensed raves are advertised on Snapchat and then shared by others. “If one post gets reposted by ten people, with a thousand people on their Snapchat, then a thousand people have seen it and then so on,” Morsh says, adding that there’s not going to be an event on Facebook for people to search for. “These things go viral, and they can go viral in an evening or so.”


Despite the events which took place last weekend, a group called Unlock Sheffield claims that it will continue its plans to host an unlicensed rave this weekend. “We’re deeply saddened by the events in Manchester and are putting a number of measures in place to ensure it is as safe as possible,” the organiser says via email, shortly after we reached out to the group on Snapchat. The organiser, who didn’t want to reveal too much about himself, tells us that he’s in his early-20s, from South Yorkshire, and owns a few ‘modest’ companies. “I’m just a guy that likes to have a fun time and want to help others do the same,” he says.The organiser claims that measures will include on-site security and first aiders, a group of volunteer cleaners and will advise that attendees wear masks. “As keen partiers we’ve been going slightly mad through lockdown. We reviewed the current status of the lockdown and thought it was time to give people what they want,” he explains when asked why the group intended to host a rave this weekend, adding that it won’t reveal the location of the rave until the day of the rave itself.
An Instagram account called projex_hytn is also suspected to be linked to a rave which occurred in a wooded area near to a motorway bridge in Huyton a few weeks ago. According to the account’s bio, the next one will be coming soon, and the rave will be an invite-only event.The last-minute nature of unlicensed raves and the reveal of the location is a major reason why policing them can be a challenge. “These events can be very difficult to prevent, as information about their precise time and location can now be shared almost instantaneously among large numbers of people and very shortly before an event is due to take place,” says Stuart Lister, professor of policing and criminal justice at the University of Leeds. “This means it can be very difficult for the police to gain intelligence upstream of events and to prevent them from happening.”
Martin Innes, the director of the Cardiff University Crime and Security Research Institute, who has researched policing and social media use, says that while the police has invested money into monitoring social media, intelligence gathering tends to be restricted to high-harm areas such as counterterrorism or serious organised crime groups. “If you don’t have the awareness with a sufficiently long-time horizon, then sometimes it becomes quite pragmatic in terms of policing,” he says, pointing out that officers may just observe the rave and take enforcement action after the event is over.
On Friday, Nick Bailey, Greater Manchester Police’s assistant chief constable, appealed to parents to pass on information to the authorities about future raves, vowing to crack down on any taking place this weekend. “Please, please, if you know about these events then make sure you are telling the authorities, make sure you are telling Greater Manchester police, so we have the best opportunity to prevent them from occurring,” he said.In order to stop a rave from taking place in Dartmoor back in December, police set up roadblocks on the roads surrounding the site of the rave. This is something that Lister says police forces can do to stop people accessing a site via the road, but this doesn’t account for those accessing the rave by foot.


And once those raves are up and running, when there are potentially thousands of people in attendance, those parties can be incredibly difficult to shut down. “The reality is the police are going to be unable to prevent such numbers and volumes of people descending onto a location, particularly if those individuals are intent on having their rave,” says Tony Blockley, head of policing at the University of Derby.
Raves where large numbers of people gather are also in contravention of social distancing guidelines, put in place to lower transmission of the coronavirus. Lawrence Young, a professor at the University of Warwick Medical School says that it’s possible that raves such as the ones in Manchester, where many people are gathered in close proximity, could cause a spike in infections, especially if there’s singing involved. In a study published by the Centre for Disease Control in March, researchers found that the act of singing likely contributed to 53 of 61 people attending a choir practice being infected with coronavirus. However, gatherings outdoors are believed to be safer than those taking place indoors.
“There’s a broader responsibility here because as we try to ease ourselves out of lockdown, what we don’t want is a situation where we see spikes of infection spread from youngsters who are getting infected – perhaps are not themselves getting symptoms – but are spreading it to their families, to their relatives,” says Young.
When we asked the Unlock Sheffield organiser if he would feel guilty if the rave causes a localised spike in infections, the organiser says: “We were planning to abide by the rules, but with the complete lack of consistency across the Cummings debacle and the many protests happening across the country, we have decided there is no justification to enforce these rules”.
Barratt-Cole says that her hope now is that the ravers in Manchester never do it again and whoever organised it are brought to task. “I also hope we don’t have a second wave,” she adds. But as clubs remain closed, the risk of illegal raves occurring will remain high. “We’re going to see something on a similar scale to the 1989 Summer of Rave,” Morsh thinks. Thousands of people attending illegal parties in one city has not been seen in England for many, many years.”
Alex Lee is a writer for WIRED. He tweets from @1AlexL
More great stories from WIRED
🦆 Google got rich from your data. DuckDuckGo is fighting back
💰 The Animal Crossing fans running in-game businesses
🤑 Inside the ‘bullshit’ get-rich-quick world of dropshipping
🎵 The secret behind the success of Apple’s AirPods


🔒 The UK’s lockdown rules, explained
👉 Follow WIRED on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn

Get The Email from WIRED, your no-nonsense briefing on all the biggest stories in technology, business and science. In your inbox every weekday at 12pm sharp.

by entering your email address, you agree to our privacy policy

Thank You. You have successfully subscribed to our newsletter. You will hear from us shortly.
Sorry, you have entered an invalid email. Please refresh and try again.

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment

Why You Need A Website