A MIDDLESBROUGH barber has been hit with a hefty fine for flagrantly breaching Covid lockdown rules.

The town centre stylist was found with customers in his salon at the weekend after a member of the public saw people entering and leaving.

Fire chiefs have also raised concerns that illicit working behind closed and often locked doors could pose an increased fire risk.

When members of Middlesbrough Council's Public Protection Service visited the business on Saturday (February 6) it was clear that attempts had been made to hide that the business was open.

The owner has been served with a £1,000 fixed penalty notice (FPN) and warned that further breaches will lead to much greater fines of up to £10,000 or prosecution.

Only certain businesses are allowed to open during the current drive to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic, and the law currently prohibits hairdressers and barbers from operating, including mobile services and home visits.  

Today Middlesbrough Mayor Andy Preston sounded a warning to other businesses tempted to break the rules, while praising the vast majority for playing their part in fighting coronavirus and saving lives.

To date Middlesbrough Council has issued £33,000 worth of FPNs to 17 businesses in the town, all for continuing to trade while prohibited.

Mr Preston said: "The rules are crystal clear, as is the reason they're in place - we all need to stay at home as much as possible if we're to beat this dreadful disease.

"To continue to operate, as this barber did, seriously risks the spread of coronavirus and it is not only the business that is at fault but its customers are as well. 

"Most of us have desperately wanted a haircut at times over the last 11 months, but we've had to wait, and for good reason.

"I'm grateful to the vast majority of businesses - and the general public - for sticking to the rules, and helping to turn the tide on Covid-19.

"The alternative is not just a fine - it could be so much worse."

Inspector Tony Cross of Cleveland Police said: "We are working closely with our colleagues from Middlesbrough Council regarding any breaches of coronavirus legislation.

"Whilst we are sympathetic to business owners in the current climate and the challenges that they face, we all have a part to play in stopping the spread of the virus and helping to save lives.

"The rules are clear and barbers shops are not allowed to open under current legislation.

"Both business owners and customers are at risk of being fined. We will continue to work with the local authority to deal with anyone who flouts the regulations."

Joe Flounders, Head of Protection at Cleveland Fire Brigade said: "Locking of doors means impeding escape routes in the event of a fire and this breaches the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. 

"All business owners have a legal responsibility to ensure people on the premises are safe.

"This means secure escape routes, unblocked exits, identifying hazards and training staff what to do in the event of an emergency. 

"We will work with other enforcement agencies and take any action deemed necessary to ensure legal compliance."