'Outrageous' fake Covid marshals inspected Southsea pub in bid to 'rip off' hospitality trade

BRAZEN fraudsters posing as Covid marshals handing out fake fines have been branded ‘outrageous’.

By Ben Fishwick
Saturday, 19th December 2020, 7:00 am

Portsmouth City Council warned people have posed as the authority’s business compliance officers aiming to sting pubs and shops.

It comes as one Southsea pub was targeted by a scammer but did not dish out a fraudulent fine as nothing in the premises gave the man even the slightest justification for trying on his con trick.

Council leader Gerald Vernon-Jackson said: ‘It’s outrageous, it’s ripping people off, taking advantage of people.

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Portsmouth City Council Covid business compliance officers, known as Covid marshals. Picture: Portsmouth City Council

‘It's totally unacceptable when we’re all trying to fight to keep everybody well. I’m really not impressed.’

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Among the businesses targeted was the O’Neills pub in Albert Road, Southsea.

Staff were called by an anonymous person posing as a Covid marshal who said he would be on site in an hour.

When he arrived he showed a Portsmouth City Council lanyard and was shown around the staff room, kitchen and bar.

Craig McCloud, general manager, said: ‘He rocked up at the door with ID and pen and paper, and that sort of thing, and got walked around the business.

‘They were taken back of house, they looked at the staff room, kitchen, and gave us a fresh bill of health and walked out the door.’

Mr McCloud added: ‘It was a case of where we’re so hot on things there was nothing they could even contemplate to give us a fake fine.

‘They’re probably aiming at smaller businesses.’

The ruse was only uncovered when later that day, December 12, city council officials conducted a check for Covid compliance.

Mr McCloud’s team queried the two visits. Council staff went away and checked, with police later telling staff the first was not an official visit.

Hampshire police are now investigating the ‘concerns raised to us about an individual claiming to be performing Covid-19 compliance checks’.

A spokesman added: ‘Enquiries are ongoing to establish who the individual was, if any offences were committed, and whether this is linked to any other incidents that Portsmouth City Council make us aware of.

‘Police officers or council officials will never ask for a fine to be paid on-the-spot and will be able to provide valid ID to prove their identity.’

It comes after several firms have been fined by police for regulations breaches.

Cllr Steve Pitt, deputy council leader, said there had been ‘a number of reports of people falsely claiming to be council officials’.

He added: ‘Our officers will have clearly visible ID, as well as high-visibility clothing, clearly marked with the Portsmouth City Council logo. If you're suspicious that someone is posing as a council official or asking you to pay a fine on the spot, call the police.’

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