Many Brits think police not being strict enough over lockdown

Rebecca Speare-Cole
·5-min read
Police presence before a proposed anti-lockdown protest in Clapham Common, London.
Police presence before a proposed anti-lockdown protest in Clapham Common, London. (PA)

The majority of the British public have backed a tougher police enforcement of England’s coronavirus lockdown as confusion over the rules continues.

A YouGov poll found that 46% of Brits believe that police are “not strict enough” in their enforcement of the new lockdown restrictions.

Meanwhile, just 14% think that officers are being “too strict” and 27% think they are getting it “about right”.

It comes amid warnings that police will ramp up efforts to penalise lockdown flouters and experts call for even stricter measures.

Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown

Read more: What you can and can't do under current lockdown rules

England’s current national lockdown rules state: “You can leave your home to exercise. This should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.” However, “local area” is not defined in the rules.

There is also still ongoing confusion across the UK in terms of how far people can travel for exercise and what counts as household mixing under the new lockdown regulations.

Police have also said that officers have little power to enforce the rules with Brian Booth, chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, calling it “nonsense” and “impossible”.

Police officers at St Pancras, London, with more being deployed to enforce travel rules at London�s stations, and the public being urged to adhere to Government guidance after Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced on Saturday that from Sunday areas in the South East currently in Tier 3 will be moved into a new Tier 4 for two weeks � effectively returning to the lockdown rules of November, after scientists warned of the rapid spread of the new variant coronavirus.
Police officers at St Pancras, London, with more being deployed to enforce travel rules at London's stations (PA)

He said: “The guidance is that you should be local in your own community near where you live but people are far exceeding that. Officers have no power in law to deal with it, so it is a bit of a nonsense really.

“The guidance is people’s moral judgment, should they be doing it, but with regard to policing it - it’s impossible.”

The confusion has been fuelled by two women getting fined in Derbyshire for driving five miles to go for a walk with a takeaway coffee – with one officer describing it as a “picnic”.

Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore described how they were “treated like criminals” by police as the fines were issued at Foremark Reservoir.

Derbyshire Police’s chief constable, Rachel Swann, said the force has now apologised to them after the fines were withdrawn on Monday evening.

However, she noted: “At present there is no clear limit as to how far people can travel to exercise, but government guidance strongly requests people do not leave their local area.”

Policing minister Kit Malthouse tried to clarified some of the rules as he did the morning media round on Tuesday.

Malthouse listed scenarios in which buying a takeaway coffee would be allowed, as he said people need to use their “common sense” when following lockdown rules.

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He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “If you’re getting coffee on your way to do exercise, or as part of your acquiring food, or one of those reasons you’re allowed to be out of the house, then that is legitimate.

“This is one of those Scotch egg moments, where it’s very hard for us legislators to legislate for every single nuance of human behaviour.

“What we are relying on is people having a common sense of themselves of what they think is appropriate.”

But one of Scotland’s top medical advisers said meeting outdoors for coffee during lockdown is “not appropriate”.

Watch: Police warn coronavirus rule-breakers they are ‘increasingly likely’ to be fined

Professor Jason Leitch said that people should not be trying to bend coronavirus rules in the country.

Scottish ministers are meeting on Tuesday morning to discuss tightening restrictions.

Prof Leitch said these could include further rules on “non-essential” takeaway services and construction.

He told BBC Breakfast: “If you’re arranging to meet someone for coffee, that’s not appropriate for where we are in the pandemic.

“That’s not where we are just now. I’m really, really sorry but you should only leave the house for essential reasons.”

Police patrol Barry Island, Wales, which usually draws crowds for the New Year day swim, but is relatively empty as the country is in Level four of its coronavirus restrictions, the highest level available, due to the surge in coronavirus cases.
Police patrol Barry Island in Wales. (PA)

The national clinical director also said most people should not be sitting on park benches although he did make an exception for older people, like the example of his parents.

He said: “If my parents go out for a walk, they’re 79 and 80, it’s perfectly legitimate for them to have a little rest on the way because I think it’s really important that they go out.

“We’re not suggesting the police should fine everybody on park benches, but let’s use our common sense.”

When asked about the park bench example and how it should be policed, Prof Leitch said: “It should hopefully not be policed.”

He went on to say he believed most people “understand we’re in a pandemic”, but added that the police will enforce the law if they have to.

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In London, Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick has warned coronavirus rule-breakers they are "increasingly likely" to face fines as forces move "more quickly" to enforce lockdown restrictions.

Britain's most senior police officer said it was "preposterous" that anyone could be unaware of the need to follow the stringent measures designed to curb Covid-19 cases.

Writing in The Times, she said: "It is preposterous to me that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus.

“We have been clear that those who breach Covid-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines."

Watch: COVID-19: Police officers will be quicker to enforce COVID rules during lockdown