United Kingdom

Police chiefs tell officers not to punish anyone travelling 'reasonable distance' for exercise

Police chiefs have told officers not to punish anyone travelling a 'reasonable distance' for exercise after a backlash at 'overzealous' coronavirus lockdown tactics. 

The new guidance, issued by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing on Tuesday night, also states road checks on every vehicle are 'disproportionate'.

It comes after Derbyshire Police faced a backlash for filming walkers with drones to deter visitors to the Peak District, while North Yorkshire Police stopped motorists at 'checkpoints' last week.

Scotland Yard anti-terror chief Neil Basu yesterday demanded officers maintain the British tradition of 'policing by consent' and said their conduct would be remembered for generations after they were accused of abusing their powers.

The new guidance states: 'Use your judgement and common sense; for example, people will want to exercise locally and may need to travel to do so, we don't want the public sanctioned for travelling a reasonable distance to exercise.

Police checking IDs and asking people where and why they were travelling at Canada Water Underground Station today

Police officers from North Yorkshire Police stop motorists in cars to check that their travel is 'essential', following the Government's Covid-19 advice to 'Stay at Home'

Derbyshire Police dyeing the 'blue lagoon' in Harpur Hill, Buxton black, as gatherings there are 'dangerous' and are 'in contravention of the current instruction of the UK Government'

The police are seen breaking up a football game taking place on Roath Rec in Cardiff over the weekend

'Road checks on every vehicle is equally disproportionate. We should reserve enforcement only for individuals who have not responded to engage, explain, and encourage, where public health is at risk.'

Police have been told to be 'consistent' when using new powers brought in after the Government introduced social distancing measures last week.

People can only leave their homes to go shopping for basic necessities and medicines, to exercise, or to go to work if their job cannot be done from home.

Officers can fine or even arrest those flouting the rules under legislation enacted last Thursday.

It comes after police have in recent days been accused of being 'overzealous' and pursuing 'over-enforcement' - from banning shops selling Easter eggs to shaming walkers with drones.

Police Scotland speak to walkers at Cramond, at the Firth of Forth west of Edinburgh, where officers were discouraging people from driving to walk

A cyclist receives a telling off from a police officer in Richmond Park this morning after being caught cycling through the park which had been forbidden, except for NHS workers, since Friday

Derbyshire Police sent up their drone and filmed people on 'not essential' trips to the Peak District including people posing for an 'Instagram snap'

The force says that people should not be heading to the Peak District to admire the sunset while Britain is in lockdown

This week, Derbyshire Police poured black dye into a crystal blue lagoon in the Peak District to deter people from making 'non-essential trips'. 

What does the new police guidance say?

The new guidance was issued by the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing on Tuesday night.

It states that officers should:  'Use your judgement and common sense; for example, people will want to exercise locally and may need to travel to do so, we don't want the public sanctioned for travelling a reasonable distance to exercise.

It adds that: 'Road checks on every vehicle is equally disproportionate. We should reserve enforcement only for individuals who have not responded to engage, explain, and encourage, where public health is at risk.'

In a Facebook post, Buxton safer neighbourhood policing team said: 'No doubt this is due to the picturesque location and the lovely weather (for once) in Buxton. 

'However, the location is dangerous and this type of gathering is in contravention of the current instruction of the UK Government.

'With this in mind, we have attended the location this morning and used water dye to make the water look less appealing.'  

Alex John Desmond, who lives nearby, wrote on Facebook: 'This is a joke, the way this force is acting is not representative of policing by consent which is the way the UK is meant to be governed. You should be ashamed of yourselves. 

'You have taken something beautiful and damaged it.' 

He added that the force was promoting a culture of 'shaming' individuals, claiming that he was shouted down on his first trip out since lockdown began.

 he same force shared pictures on social media of queues of cars visiting the Peak District before the lockdown, and also drone images of people out for a walk.

Neil's son, Steven keeping a safe distance as he delivered supplies and wished his father Happy Birthday. After posting this image on social media he was contacted by police

South West Police felt the need to warn Stephen that wishing his dad happy birthday did not count as essential travel but Kinnock replied that he was also delivering necessary supplies 

Officers have been warning shopkeepers not to sell Easter eggs heavy-handed enforcement as the lockdown continues and it was revealed forces are planning to cut arrests and ignore crimes because of the crisis.

Retailers say enforcement officers has trying to stop them from selling they consider non-essential, including chocolate gifts, even though there is no official guidance from the Government. 

The Association of Convenience Stores says some of its members have encountered 'overzealous enforcement', and James Lowman, chief executive of the trade group, told The Times: 'This is a misreading of the rules. In the cases where officers have challenged retailers and shoppers in this way, it's brought confusion, distracted retailers in the busiest weeks of their lives, and increased the interactions between people at a time when the government is trying to minimise them.'

Coronavirus lockdown: Can you leave your home and what are your rights? 

- When did the laws come into force?

The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations 2020 were introduced in England on Thursday at 1pm.

Similar versions of the laws were enacted in Wales at 4pm and in Scotland at 7.15pm on the same day, as well as at 11pm on Saturday in Northern Ireland.

- Why have the rules been enacted?

The England regulations state they are made 'in response to the serious and imminent threat to public health' posed by Covid-19.

- Can I leave my house?

According to the legislation: 'During the emergency period, no person may leave the place where they are living without reasonable excuse.'

A reasonable excuse includes: getting food and medical supplies for yourself, members of the same household and vulnerable people, getting money, to exercise and for essential work.

You can also leave your house to: give blood, attend a funeral (in some cases), meet bail conditions, go to court and take part in legal proceedings, move house and to 'avoid injury or illness or to escape a risk of harm'.

But public gatherings of more than two people are banned apart from for members of the same household who are currently living together. There are some exceptions along similar lines as above.

- How often can I go out?

The law does not specify - or limit - how many times per day someone can leave their house for any of these reasons.

The Government advice is to exercise once a day but the law does not say how many times a day this is allowed to happen.

- Can I go for a drive?

The Government urged people to 'stay local' when out exercising and only use open spaces near their homes where possible, keeping at least two metres apart from anyone they do not live with.

Some police forces said the public should not go out for a drive or use their car to travel to exercise.

But the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) said there is nothing 'definitive' in the legislation on this, although it urged the public to be 'sensible'.

The legislation does not address the use of cars or vehicles at all and does not forbid members of the public from using their cars to 'go for a drive' or travel to a location by car to exercise.

It states petrol stations, car repair and MOT services, taxi companies and car parks can all remain open, albeit with restrictions.

- Can I go shopping, and what can I buy?

The legislation says you can leave the house to obtain 'basic necessities' like 'food'.

The law does not define what constitutes 'food' and does not specify what type of food, drink or other items are permissible when shopping.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: 'If a shop is allowed to remain open then it will of course sell whatever items it has in stock.'

The law says supermarkets, corner shops, off licences, hardware stores, pet shops and post offices can all remain open.

- What can the police do?

Officers can take action to enforce the requirements of the legislation if they 'reasonably believe' someone is in contravention as long as the decision is 'necessary and proportionate'.

They can order someone to go home, leave an area, have the power to disperse a group and remove someone using 'reasonable force, if necessary'.

Officers can also take steps to make sure parents are stopping their children from breaking the rules.

Police can arrest someone refusing to comply and issue £60 fines - reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days. The fine doubles to £120 for a second offence and would continue to rise each time to a maximum of £960.

Those who do not pay could be taken to court.

You could also be arrested for refusing to provide your name and address to avoid being given a fine.

The NPCC told forces to take a 'common sense approach' to policing the rules and use enforcement action as a last resort while Downing Street said police officers should use 'their own discretion' in enforcing the measures.

- What else do the rules say?

The law defines a vulnerable person as someone who is aged 70 or older, anyone aged under 70 who has an underlying health condition and anyone who is pregnant.

Underlying health conditions include: chronic long-term respiratory diseases like asthma, kidney and heart disease, hepatitis, Parkinson's, diabetes, motor neurone disease, multiple sclerosis, a learning disability or cerebral palsy, HIV, Aids, cancer, and obesity.

- How long will the rules be in force?

The emergency laws must be reviewed at least once every 21 days, starting on April 15, and will remain in place until they are scrapped by the Government. Ultimately they can expire after six months if not renewed.

Lancashire Police issued 123 fines for breaches of the rules over the weekend, while officers in Cheshire summonsed six people for various offences, including multiple people from the same house going out to buy 'non-essential' items.

When former Labour leader Neil Kinnock turned 78 on Saturday, his son Stephen, Labour MP for Aberavon, Wales, took to social media to share a heart-warming snap of their birthday meeting – sitting around six feet from his parents. 

But his Twitter post was picked up by South Wales Police – who said the meeting was in breach of government guidelines. 

A spokesman said: 'We know celebrating your dad's birthday is a lovely thing to do, however this is not essential travel.' 

Mr Kinnock responded by claiming the travel was in fact essential as he was delivering 'necessary supplies' to his father and mother, former MEP Baroness Kinnock. 

Warrington Police faced a barrage of criticism after they tweeted that they had summonsed six people for various offences over the weekend.

These included someone who went out for a drive because they were bored, people returning from parties, and multiple people going out to buy non-essential items.

The tweet stated: 'Overnight six people have been summonsed for offences relating to the new corona virus legislation to protect the public:

'These included; out for a drive due to boredom, returning from parties, multiple people from the same household going to the shops for non-essential items'.

But angry members of the public called their actions an 'abuse of power' and questioned the enforcement of these new Covid-19 rules.

Lewis, replying on Twitter said: 'Seems you are trying to get the general public to hate you. This is a petty abuse of power'.

Police Scotland issued 25 fixed penalty notices over the weekend to people flouting the regulations introduced in a bid to stop people from spreading coronavirus in public places.

The new powers in the Coronavirus Act make it a criminal offence to flout the public health guidance on social distancing to prevent Covid-19.

On-the-spot fines of £30 can be issued to people who breach social distancing measures, rising to £60 if they are not paid within 28 days and capped at £960 for repeat offenders.

One of Britain's most decorated judges, Lord Sumption, who retired from the Supreme Court in 2018, also criticised Derbyshire Police for having 'shamed our policing traditions' after the force chased walkers with drones.

He added: 'The tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform, they are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the Government's command.

'Yet in some parts of the country the police have been trying to stop people from doing things like travelling to take exercise in the open country which are not contrary to the regulations simply because ministers have said that they would prefer us not to.

'The police have no power to enforce ministers' preferences but only legal regulations which don't go anything like as far as the Government's guidance.

'I have to say that the behaviour of Derbyshire Police in trying to shame people in using their undoubted right to travel to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the fells so people don't want to go there is frankly disgraceful.

'This is what a police state is like. It's a state in which the Government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers' wishes.' 

Lord Sumption added: 'I have to say that most police forces have behaved in a thoroughly sensible and moderate fashion.

'Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions. There is a natural tendency, of course, and a strong temptation for the police to lose sight of their real functions and turn themselves from citizens in uniform into glorified school prefects.

'I think it's really sad that the Derbyshire Police have failed to resist that.' 

The head of the Metropolitan Police, Cressida Dick, said on Monday that lockdown rules including fines and arrests should only be used as a last resort and made it clear officers should be 'encouraging' not over the top in their enforcement. 

She told LBC yesterday: 'We are all getting used to the new restrictions and I've been very clear that in the first instance I want my officers to be engaging with people, talking to people, encouraging them to comply. Explaining, of course, if they don't understand - already we have had examples of people who simply hadn't quite heard all the messages - and, only as a very last resort with the current restrictions, using firm direction or even enforcement. 

Some forces, including Derbyshire, said on Tuesday they had not used the new powers once, while Lancashire Police issued 123 fines for breaches of the rules over the weekend.

The guidance, which has been updated since it was originally sent to forces last week, said policing should be 'by consent' with the initial response to 'encourage voluntary compliance'.

It says: 'There is no power to 'stop and account'. The police will apply the law in a system that is flexible, discretionary and pragmatic.

'This will enable officers to make sensible decisions and employ their judgement. Enforcement should be a last resort.'

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