Armed police fined a gym owner £1,000 after he refused to shut his business in line with new coronavirus restrictions.
Nick Whitcombe, head of Body Tech Fitness in Moreton, Wirral, defied the new rules by keeping his gym open on Wednesday.
Gyms have been forced to close in Liverpool City Region after the area was placed in the “very high” category under the new three-tier lockdown system.
A member of the public called the police when they saw the business was still open and officers warned Mr Whitcombe he needed to shut his doors.
Shortly afterwards “seven or eight” armed officers descended on the gym and told the owner to kick out his customers or face a fine, the Liverpool Echo reports.
When he refused, arguing he would have “no gym to come back to”, police fined him £1,000.
A video which has now been widely shared on social media, shows police standing guard among gym members who were using equipment at the facility.
It was one of two in Wirral which said it would stay open despite new rules ordering them to close.
In the video shared to his Instagram, Mr Whitcombe said: “We have just received our first £1000 fine at Body Tech.
“After meeting with the police yesterday, they told us we would get a warning first day, then a second warning, £100 fine, £200 fine and so on.
“They were with us this morning gave us our warning, came back this afternoon. Orders from their top boss to issue a fine straight away.
“They’ve told us close immediately or face a £1,000 fine. Obviously we still had quite a lot of members training and I said to the officers, ‘I’m not asking anyone to leave’. Even if I am I’m going to let them finish their sessions first.
“So they’ve issued the fine. First one is £1,000, they can come back in three hours and issue £2,000, three hours after that £4,000.”
In a previous video announcing his refusal to close the gym, Mr Whitcombe said: “If we close our facility we won’t have one to come back to. We will not have a gym to come back to.
“There will be no business, there will be no gym, there will be no jobs.”
Mr Whitcombe said gyms are vital to “our physical and mental health”.
He added: “Keep fighting the good fight. The gyms need to stay open.”
A petition set up by the gym has now received over 100,000 signatures, while a crowdfunding page called “Save Liverpool Gyms” has raised over £23,000 in donations.
After receiving the visit from police on Wednesday, Mr Whitcombe told Liverpool Echo all officers who attended the gym were “fair and polite”.
He said: “I appreciate that they’re only doing their job and we treated them with equal respect as I’m sure the sergeant will confirm.”
Police confirmed officers were called to Body Tech Fitness on Pasture Road, Moreton at around 8.35am on Wednesday, by a member of the public who was concerned that the gym had opened in contravention of the new coronavirus legislation.
Officers visited the premises and warned the owner to close.
Upon returning later in the day, the gym remained open and a fixed penalty notice was issued ordering the owner to pay a £1,000 fine, and he was ordered to close immediately.
Chief Superintendent Claire Richards said: “We understand that people are frustrated with the current situation and for a number of local businesses, including the fitness and leisure industry, this will be particularly hard.
“It’s not that long ago that gyms reopened their doors after lockdown and they did so after making huge changes to the way they work for the safety and protection of their customers.
“But while this lockdown does present huge challenges, the focus of us all should now be on preventing the spread of the virus and getting us back to normality as safely and as quickly as possible.
“The new restrictions have been brought in to try to achieve that, and if we don’t act decisively and collaboratively, the impact could be harder and last even longer.
“We will therefore continue to encourage members of the public and businesses to adhere to the guidance, explain why they should and – as in this case – use enforcement where there are clear breaches of legislation.”