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What are illegal raves? Police break up gatherings over Easter weekend

Police siren flashing blue lights at accident or crime scene
Police in Cornwall and Exmoor have been shutting down illegal raves over the weekend. (Stock image: Getty)

Police in the South West have been breaking up illegal raves over the Easter Weekend.

In the Davidstow area of North Cornwall, police disrupted a "large unlicensed music event" on Saturday night (30 March) after receiving reports about convoys of hundreds of vehicles heading to the area.

They blocked surrounding roads and seized music equipment, but one officer had his car rammed by a vehicle trying to get past.

In Exmoor, hundreds of revellers attended an illegal rave. Avon and Somerset Police said it received a call at 6am on Easter Sunday relating to the event near Watchet in Somerset.

Officers went to the gathering and engaged with revellers, the force said. Pictures published by the BBC showed rows of cars parked on both sides of the B3224 near where the rave was being held.

It's not the first time illegal raves have attracted hundreds of revellers, prompting a police response. Here is everything we know about these illegal raves and illegal raves in general:-

What has happened?

Illegal raves were reported to have happened in both north Cornwall and Exmoor over the Easter weekend.

Devon and Cornwall Police said officers disrupted a "large unlicensed music event" in the Davidstow area of north Cornwall on Saturday night (30 March) after receiving reports about it.

The force said just before midnight it received reports of cars beginning to gather with convoys of hundreds of vehicles around the north and east Cornwall areas.

Officers blocked the surrounding roads to prevent anyone else gaining access and seized vans carrying music equipment, the force said, as well as stopping and turning away vehicles heading to join the event. One officer had his car rammed by a vehicle trying to force access to the site.

Local Policing Superintendent Rob Youngman said: "We know firsthand the impact that these types of events have on local communities and how disruptive they can be. Last night we acted quickly on information that was coming into us and deployed a range of resources across the area in order to stop this event from taking place here.

"I’m grateful to those who reported the information to us and to the officers who acted quickly and robustly to prevent the situation from escalating."

Avon and Somerset Police also reportedly confirmed it had received a call at around 6am relating to an unlicensed event in Luxborough near Watchet in Somerset.

The force said officers arrived on the scene within 15 minutes to find the event already under way with several hundred people in attendance. It said they "engaged with revellers" and were reassuring the community.

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What is an illegal rave?

A rave - or 'Unlicensed Music Event' (UME) - is defined under section 63 (1) Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, as: "a gathering on land in the open air of 20 or more persons (whether trespassers or not) at which amplified music is played during the night (with or without intermissions) and is such as, by reason of its loudness and duration and time at which it is played, likely to cause serious distress to the inhabitants of the locality".

It also applies to a gathering of 20 or more people trespassing on land that isn't in the open air - such as a building - for a rave and where amplified music is played at night.

Guidance shared by Sussex Police adds: "UMEs are unlawful, unregulated events. Many organisers pay little or no regard to the safety, security and welfare of those attending. Sites have no facilities for the very basic needs such as toilets or water. There is no clear organiser in charge, medical provision, stewarding, security or regulations.

"They also include the risk of localised disruption to communities and the risk of crime (drugs, alcohol related violence, anti-social behaviour, public order etc.) as well as the risk to public confidence in policing."

The scene in Museum Street, central London, where riot police have surrounded a suspected illegal raid. Hundreds of revellers were taking part in a suspected illegal rave today after a stand-off with police. Several police officers were hurt after bottles were thrown during clashes with a crowd of up to 500 people at a disused building in central London.   (Photo by Lewis Whyld/PA Images via Getty Images)
Riot police surround a suspected illegal raid in London in 2010, where several officers were hurt during clashes with a crowd of up to 500 people. (Getty)

Have illegal raves happened before?

This isn't the first time police have been called to illegal raves. The latest gatherings come just weeks after a former office block in Marylebone, London, was shut down down after illegal raves caused havoc.

Westminster Council officers said the vacant offices were reportedly being used for illegal raves and unauthorised music events, sometimes lasting over 14 hours, and featuring music so loud nearby walls shook.

At the start of the year, police in Wiltshire raided an illegal New Year’s rave attended by around 200 people in Pewsey.

In 2022, police spent three days trying to shut down an illegal rave in Cornwall.

What can the police do about illegal raves?

If a rave or UME is illegal, police can use powers contained under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 to break it up.

Their first step will be to liaise with landowners, the Local Authority - specifically the Environmental Health Officer (EHO) - and, where appropriate, the Fire and Rescue Service and Ambulance service.

They can then break up the gathering, and issue fines or fixed penalty notices where appropriate, as well as seizing sound and music equipment.

Illegal rave, sound stage and dancers, Dale Airfield, May 2010, Pembrokeshire, Wales, UK, Europe
Revellers descended on Dale Airfield in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for an illegal rave. (Getty)

What happens if I go to an illegal rave?

People who go to illegal raves and be issued with fines of around £100, which can rise for repeat offenders.

Those who organise or facilitate illegal raves or UMEs of 30 people or more can face a £10,000 fine.

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