More than 50 people have been arrested after police shut down a rave which was held on the picturesque South Downs in “complete disregard” of Covid-19 regulations.
Sussex Police said that, at its height, up to 2,000 people were present at the “large unlicensed music event” in Steyning, West Sussex, on Sunday.
The force said people were arrested on suspicion of offences including drink- and drug-driving, possession of drugs, and theft, and have been taken into custody.
The number of arrests is expected to rise, making the incident “one of the largest, unplanned operations Sussex Police has experienced in recent years”, it added.
A “large volume” of music equipment, including sound systems and speakers, was seized by officers and, as a result, eight individuals were identified as the organisers of the apparent rave and arrested.
Under coronavirus rules, gatherings must not exceed 30 people unless they are covered by a legal exemption.
Organisers of illegal gatherings can face fines of up to £10,000.
Sussex Police said they were made aware of the event, which drew a significant crowd from outside the area, in the early hours of Sunday and deployed officers in a bid to bring it to a “safe conclusion”.
Pictures and video on social media appeared to show crowds dancing in a field in front of speakers pumping out music earlier on Sunday, while police said the event included a large number of vehicles and pedestrians near Bostal Road.
Drone footage from the scene showed large numbers of vehicles lined up along country roads in the area.
Sussex Police said officers “attempted to engage with those present, however were met with significant hostility”.
One officer was “assaulted while attempting to detain an individual resisting arrest”, the force said.
A police community support officer was being treated for a suspected broken arm following a collision involving a police car and a vehicle being driven by someone leaving the event.
The driver and passengers of the second vehicle were also taken to hospital as a precaution, police said.
A 20-year-old man from Redditch, Worcestershire, was arrested on suspicion of driving while under the influence of both drink and drugs in relation to the collision.
A second collision with another police vehicle was reported at about 7pm, with the driver arrested on suspicion of failing to stop, dangerous driving and failing to provide a breath test.
Police issued a directive to leave the area at 5.45pm and by 7.15pm the event “reached a conclusion”.
Various roads were shut as police dealt with the incident, and cars were being stopped by officers as they left the area to check that drivers were in a fit state to drive.
Police urged people to avoid the area on Sunday night, adding that officers would continue to proactively stop all vehicles leaving the area.
John O’Sullivan, a 46-year-old comedian from Horsham, said: “Everyone scattered when the police came.”
He continued: “There were about 1,000 people when we (were) there. The music got turned off by police and they surrounded the sound system.
“People were left confused at what to do. They were slumped in cars, in the grass.
“They did pick up the rubbish, though not all, but lots of people (were) making effort to pick it up.
“There was a lot of human poo which, as you can imagine, was utterly grim.”
Detective Superintendent Juliet Parker said: “Due to the mindless actions of a large number of people, the majority of whom have travelled from out of county, the community of Steyning has experienced significant disruption and I’d like to personally thank the public for their patience, understanding and co-operation as we sought to bring this event to a close.
“With a situation of this size, our utmost priority must be the safety of the public as well as our officers and emergency services colleagues at the scene.
“This therefore has required a significant police response involving officers from across Sussex as well as officers from surrounding forces. Officers who would have normally been dealing with serious crime and supporting the most vulnerable in our counties.
“These individuals have demonstrated a complete disregard for the local community, the heritage of the area and the existing Covid-19 regulations.
“We will not tolerate behaviour like this within Sussex, as can be seen by the high volume of arrests made over the course of the event.
“We will continue to robustly investigate this illegal activity, seeking to further arrest and prosecute wherever possible.”