Watch: Dad ordered to turn off Christmas lights or face £10k fine
A dad who was forced to switch off his charity Christmas lights display or face a £10,000 fine has been allowed to turn them back on again following an angry backlash.
Trevor Payne, 46, was told he faced the fine for breaching COVID-19 regulations after crowds turned up to see the festive lights outside his home in Cheslyn Hay, Staffs.
But he has now been told he can switch his seasonal display back on following a U-turn by police and council bosses.
However, town hall chiefs are now asking families to enjoy the lights by driving past them in their car, while visitors are banned from walking on his driveway and are being asked to donate to a mental health charity online.
The dad-of-two wrote on Facebook: "After working together with the council and police we have managed to come to a compromise to allow my lights to go back on.
"Unfortunately you will not be permitted to walk down the driveway but can drive past or park up and walk past to view the lights.
"Please follow the temporary traffic direction arrows to try and ease congestion at busy times and park responsibly respecting neighbours and residents.
"COVID government guidelines must be adhered to at all times, your co-operation will help to keep the lights switched on so everyone can enjoy some Xmas joy."
Payne has been displaying festive lights outside his property for several years to raise money for mental health charities.
But police were called to his property at around 5.20pm on Saturday evening following reports of a "large gathering" on the street, which is in Tier 3 – the highest coronavirus alert level.
Officers who arrived at the scene ordered him to turn off his seasonal display or face a hefty fine for breaching regulations – leaving families and children heartbroken.
Visitors said Payne had gone to great lengths to make his garden COVID-safe by implementing a one-way system with hand-sanitising stations.
They also claimed he had received full clearance beforehand from council bosses to ensure he was not flouting any government rules.
Payne previously said he was left "gutted" after being told by officers his Christmas lights display was in breach of current government regulations.
He spent five weeks attaching all the lights to his home to help raise money for the Young Minds Trust.
He said on Tuesday: “When the police came round they said if I didn’t comply I could face a £10,000 fine.
“I was just gutted and disappointed by it. I love seeing the kids on the drive, their faces just lit up with joy.
"But instead I had to turn people away – the kids have been left in tears, it's been heartbreaking."
Locals slammed Staffordshire Police for "spoiling the small amount of festive joy" they could experience this year in their area.
Anne Marie Beckett, 32, said her daughter Serena, three, and son Bobby, five, had been "loving" the lights before officers turned up on the road.
She said: "I think it is disgusting to be honest.
“Most people were wearing masks and social distancing in a one-way system through the garden. It felt really safe and was beautifully decorated.
“It was the first time we’ve been to this one and it’s one of the best we’ve seen.”
She added: “The lights were lovely and the atmosphere was so nice. But when the police shut the lights down the atmosphere turned.
"We were just trying to get some Christmas spirit for the kids and now they have spoiled the small amount of festive joy we could enjoy this year.”
Beckett estimated there were around 50 people at the house when police arrived but said “it was marshalled real safely by the homeowners”.
She fumed: “In a time when charities are crying out for support Staffordshire Police deem it acceptable to queue outside Primark – but this isn't allowed?”
Watch: Tier 3 areas with lowest coronavirus rates
Fellow local Sam Bartlett, 36, added: "You've got people going to football matches but you can't take children to see some Christmas lights to donate to a good cause…
"The police have got it tough at the moment, there's no doubting that, but they have got to use some common sense from time to time and get their priorities right.”
A Staffordshire Police spokesperson said they had received three calls about the gathering, which reportedly saw visitors entering the garden and a large number of cars parked in the area.
Chief Inspector David Wain, of South Staffordshire Neighbourhood Policing team, said: “Officers attended after residents expressed concern for the safety of those present at the gathering, which appeared to breach the current COVID restrictions.
"Officers acted in good faith and explained to the householder that the county is under Very High Alert Level COVID restrictions which are in force to prevent the spread of the infection and protect people.
"No enforcement action was taken after the house-owner agreed to turn off the lights for the evening.”
Councillor Roger Lees, deputy leader of South Staffordshire Council said: “South Staffordshire continues to be in Tier 3 and it’s everyone’s responsibility to stay safe and help prevent the spread of the virus.
"This doesn’t mean that we don’t want people to enjoy themselves but ask people when out and about and visiting any locations to follow the government guidance”.
Watch: How England's three-tier COVID system works