POLICE last night admitted a £400 fixed penalty notice for organising a balloon release in memory of a much-loved teenager was a mistake – as it should have been £10,000.

Tyler James, 19, was hit with the charge for breaching Covid restrictions by arranging the memorial event after Jamie McKitten’s tragic suicide on the railway at Chester-le-Street.

The event in Great Lumley was attended by over 200 people and went ahead despite being warned against it by police officers.

The Northern Echo:

The memorial event was attended by over 200 people 

Tyler’s initial penalty notice said he must pay £800, or £400 within eight days, which he did after friends and loved ones chipped in to cover the cost.

But on Saturday, the day after Jamie’s funeral, which included a gathering of more than 500 people in Great Lumley, Tyler received a second letter from police informing him he had to pay a new charge of £10,000.

Durham Constabulary last night told The Northern Echo the first charge had been issued in error.

Tyler, whose 19-year-old partner is expecting their first child in July, said: “I don’t know how they expect me to afford to pay.

“I don’t know how they expect anyone to be able to afford to pay that kind of money.

“If a 19-year-old had £10,000 lying around to pay a fine I think questions would be asked.

“It is a bit of a joke. I am not very happy about this at all.

“I paid the £400 straight away so what is going to happen with that?

“It has got me stressed out. I think it is a disgrace.”

The Northern Echo:

Jamie McKitten died on the railway at Chester-le-Street

The tragic circumstances surrounding Jamie’s death at the age of 17 has struck a chord with the community and large numbers of people came out to share their grief.

Jamie’s family said he had been unable to cope with the ongoing pain of losing his mother at the age of four after she was beaten to death by his father.

The event organised by Tyler in Great Lumley on April 11 was one of several public displays of grief despite Covid restrictions which ban gatherings.

A police van was visible in Great Lumley on Friday, but officers did not approach mourners or interfere with funeral proceedings.

The Northern Echo:

Over 500 people attended a gathering as part of Jamie's funeral on Friday 

Tyler’s mother, Ashleigh Hodgson, from Chester-le-Street, said: “I think it is absolutely disgusting. If everyone there was breaking the law why are they not fining everyone?

“There were several events. There were two other balloon releases and no-one got fined. There was a gathering at the train station. The police just turned up and moved everyone along. I don’t know how they can justify it.

“It was not an illegal rave. It was a group of friends paying their respects to their friend who had committed suicide. I feel like Tyler is being victimised.

“It has got me worried sick. I am stressed to bits. I could not afford to pay the £400. And now they want £10,000?

“He has got no money. I feel it is down to me. The stress and worry they have caused through this is appalling.”

The new fixed penalty notice said Tyler contravened the regulations relating to the organisation of gatherings involved 30 or more people.

In a similar case heard at Peterlee Magistrates’ Court last month Vicki Hutchinson, 34, had a £10,000 charge reduced to £500 for organising a balloon release in memory of her father-in-law.

The letter states Tyler has 28 days to pay the charge or will be summonsed to appear in court.

He also has the option to contest the charge in court voluntarily.

The Northern Echo:

Tyler pictured with his partner who is expecting their child in July 

Tyler, who works in construction, said he is speaking to a solicitor and will not be fundraising to get this fine paid.

He said: “Everyone helped out last time, so I cannot really ask them to do it again.”

A Durham Constabulary spokeswoman confirmed there had been an error.

She said: “Officers issued the organiser of this event with a £10,000 fixed penalty notice (FPN) in line with Government guidelines after it went ahead, despite our advice that it would breach Covid restrictions.

“Unfortunately, due to an administrative error by the national police unit which manages FPNs on behalf of police forces, the incorrect penalty details were initially sent to the event organiser.

“Our approach throughout the pandemic has been to help the public follow the restrictions by engaging, explaining, and encouraging, and only turning to enforcement as a last resort.”