Police who fined two women £200 for meeting up for socially-distanced country walk are slammed by ex chief constable who says ‘If police don’t act fairly, public won’t comply’
- Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore were each fined £200 for driving for a walk
- Ex-police chief Mike Barton thinks Derbyshire police will ‘row back’ on decision
- Barton said ‘damage’ has been done as public feel police aren’t acting ‘fairly’
A former-police chief has claimed the Derbyshire force who fined two women for going on a socially-distanced country walk together has ‘damaged’ the public’s perception of the police.
Former Durham Police chief constable Mike Barton said he believed Derbyshire Police would ‘row back’ on its decision to fine beautician Jessica Allen and her British Airways flight attendant friend Eliza Moore.
The women were slapped with two £200 for driving seven miles for a socially-distanced stroll at Foremark Reservoir because officers said their hot drinks counted as a ‘picnic’.
The reservoir is just ten minutes away from their homes and the pair arrived in separate cars.
Mr Barton said ‘damage’ has already been done as the public will be less likely to abide by the law if the police aren’t acting ‘fairly’.
Former Durham Police chief constable Mike Barton said he believed Derbyshire Police would ‘row back’ on its decision to fine beautician Jessica Allen and her British Airways flight attendant friend Eliza Moore (pictured)
Ms Allen (left) and Ms Moore (right) were taking a stroll at Foremark Reservoir when they were surrounded by Derbyshire Police, read their rights and hit with £200 fines each
The pair (pictured is Ms Allen, left; and Ms Moore, right) were also told their cups of Starbucks peppermint tea, which they bought at a drive-thru, were not allowed because they were ‘classed as a picnic’
Ms Allen, a beautician from nearby Ashby-de-la-Zouch, said she assumed ‘someone had been murdered’ when she saw a police van, a police car and several officers at the entrance of the open space. This map shows the proximity between her house and the reservoir
He told BBC Breakfast: ‘I think personally Derbyshire will row back from this position, but sadly there will be some damage done here because for the public to comply with the law, they have got to think and see the police are acting fairly. It’s called procedural justice.
‘If police aren’t seen to be acting fairly, the public won’t comply.
What is a ‘reasonable excuse’ for going outside? And can police force their way into your house if they suspect rules are being broken?
Under the rules in England, you must not leave or be outside of your home except where you have a ‘reasonable excuse’. This will be put in law.
The police can take action against you if you leave home without a ‘reasonable excuse’, and issue you with a fine (Fixed Penalty Notice).
You can be given a Fixed Penalty Notice of £200 for the first offence, doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.
A ‘reasonable excuse’ includes:
- Work – you can only leave home for work purposes where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home
- Volunteering – you can also leave home to provide voluntary or charitable services
- Essential activities – you can leave home to buy things at shops or obtain services. You may also leave your home to do these things on behalf of a disabled or vulnerable person or someone self-isolating
- Education and childcare – you can only leave home for education, registered childcare, and supervised activities for children where they are eligible to attend.
- Meeting others and care – you can leave home to visit people in your support bubble ( if you are legally permitted to form one), to provide informal childcare for children under 14 as part of a childcare bubble (for example, to enable parents to work), to provide care for disabled or vulnerable people
- Exercise – you can continue to exercise alone, with one other person or with your household or support bubble, and not outside your local area. The Government advises you should only leave for exercise once a day, but the law does not put a limit on this.
- Medical reasons – you can leave home for a medical reason, including to get a COVID-19 test, for medical appointments and emergencies
- Harm and compassionate visits – you can leave home to be with someone who is giving birth, to avoid injury or illness or to escape risk of harm (such as domestic abuse).
- You can also leave home to visit someone who is dying or someone in a care home (if permitted under care home guidance), hospice, or hospital, or to accompany them to a medical appointment
- Animal welfare reasons – you can leave home for animal welfare reasons, such as to attend veterinary services for advice or treatment
- Communal worship and life events – You can leave home to attend or visit a place of worship for communal worship, a funeral or event related to a death, a burial ground or a remembrance garden, or to attend a wedding ceremony.
There are further reasonable excuses.
For example, you may leave home to fulfil legal obligations or to carry out activities related to buying, selling, letting or renting a residential property, or where it is reasonably necessary for voting in an election or referendum.
In Scotland, coronavirus legislation gives police the power to force entry into people’s homes if they have a ‘reasonable suspicion’ rules are being broken.
However, in England, they can only enter in ‘exceptional circumstances’, which includes if they believe someone inside is infectious.
Otherwise, they will require a warrant.
‘It’s all very well some people in Whitehall sabre rattling and banging the table that the police are going to enforce these rules, that doesn’t bring about compliance. The public seeing fairness does.’
Mr Barton said it was ‘no wonder’ some police forces were confused about how to enforce the Covid-19 laws, given some of the terminology used by the Government.
He told BBC Breakfast on Saturday: ‘What we have got here is police in the past nine months have had hundreds of different rules sent to them.
‘In my day when I was policing we would have one piece of legislation a year, maybe a couple, and then we would have a training programme on how to enforce it. That space hasn’t been given to policing.
‘This is all based on the word ‘local’ and I have never seen that in legislation before.
‘None of those issues have ever been described by the law before, so no wonder there is some confusion out there.’
Current lockdown guidance instructs the public to limit exercise – including running, cycling, swimming and walking – to once per day, and says while people can leave their home, they should not travel outside their local area.
But the rules do not restrict the distance traveled to carry out exercise.
The National Police Chief’s Council guidance reads: ‘UK Government
guidance strongly requests that people do not leave their local area.
‘However, the Covid Regulations which officers enforce and which enables them to issue FPNs (Fixed Penalty Notices) for breaches, do not restrict the distance travelled for exercise.
‘Police officers will be inquisitive about why people are out of their homes and will explain the regulations and encourage people to comply.
‘Where people are breaching the regulations and are away from home without a reasonable excuse, they may be issued with a FPN.
‘In situations where people are breaching the guidance not to travel out their local area but are not breaching regulations, officers will encourage people to follow the guidance.’
Ms Allen, 27, said she assumed ‘someone had been murdered’ when she saw a police van, a police car and several officers at the entrance of the open space.
‘It was a short journey and only took about ten minutes,’ she said. I genuinely thought someone had been murdered or a child had gone missing; the place is normally so quiet.
‘The next thing, my car is surrounded. I got out of my car thinking ”There’s no way they’re coming to speak to us”. Straight away they start questioning us. One of them started reading my rights and I was looking at my friend thinking ”This must be a joke”.
‘I said we had come in separate cars, even parked two spaces away and even brought our own drinks with us. He said ”You can’t do that as it’s classed as a picnic”.
‘Crossing into a different county seems to have caused the issue but the border into Derbyshire is only a minute away from my house.’
Following outrage sparked by the officers’ response, the ‘intimidating’ force is reviewing its Covid operations after getting clarification about the rules.
Ms Allen insisted that said she is taking the pandemic ‘seriously’ as her brother is a doctor working on a Covid ward in London, and her parents have both had coronavirus.
She said she drove to the reservoir as she knew it would be less crowded than near her house. ‘I’m self-employed but my business is closed and I’m trying to fill my time,’ she said.
‘I suffer from anxiety and when you go by the water you feel so much better. I live on my own for five days a week and the only thing I’ve got to look forward to is planning a walk with my friend.’
She said brush with the law was ‘very intimidating’ and had left her feeling scared of the police.
‘I was so shook up afterwards,’ she said. ‘The fact they read my rights. I thought ‘Am I going to prison for going on a walk?’
‘I’m not a criminal but we were treated as if we were criminals and it really made me feel for those people who are wrongly arrested and questioned by police, because it wasn’t a nice situation to be in.’
Derbyshire Police said in a statement: ‘Driving to a location – where exercise could easily have been taken closer to a person’s home – is clearly not in the spirit of the national effort to reduce our travel, reduce the possible spread of the disease and reduce the number of deaths.
‘Each officer will use their professional judgement on a case-by-case basis, however, people should expect to be challenged and understand the clear reasons why they may be asked about their movements given the critical situation the NHS currently finds itself in.’
‘It is up to each individual officer on a case-by-case basis to decide what is reasonable as the legislation does not proscribe a distance.’
What can police do and what CAN’T they do to enforce Covid rules?
If I get stopped by police, do I need to answer their questions?
Police have the power to stop you in a public place and ask for your name, where you are going and what you are doing. This is known as ‘Stop and Account’. In most circumstances, you don’t have to stay with the officer or answer their questions.
The police also have a power to stop vehicles for any reason. Again, they can ask you to account for yourself, but they can’t generally force you to stay or take further action against you unless they have good reason for doing so.
However, refusing to answer the police’s questions (for example, about who you are gathering with) could give them reason to believe you are breaching the new regulations. This is because it is now a criminal offence to breach the rules in the Tier you are in.
What is reasonable force?
Under the new rules, police can use reasonable force to remove you from a gathering if they believe that you are gathering in a way which is banned by the Tier rules. They can only do this if it’s necessary and proportionate to do so.
They can also use reasonable force if you resist arrest, or if it’s necessary to prevent a crime being committed. These powers come from the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (known as PACE). ‘Reasonable force’ means using only as much force as they need in the circumstances. It must be the minimum – no more.
Can I be arrested?
The police can arrest you if they have good reason to believe you might have committed a crime – and that arresting you is necessary.
What I can do if I believe the police have acted unfairly?
If you’re unhappy with the way the police have treated you, you can make a complaint.
Ms Moore, 27, said she was ‘stunned at the time’ so did not challenge police and gave her details so they could send a fixed penalty notice.
‘Just seeing a police officer anyway is quite scary for some people and we were really not expecting to be approached and to be told we were doing something wrong,’ she said.
‘We don’t want to get away with it if we have broken the rule, but it seems a bit unfair that you can be fined on something that’s so vague.’
The pair were also told their cups of Starbucks peppermint tea, which they bought at a drive-thru, were not allowed because they were ‘classed as a picnic’.
Guidance for the current lockdown says people can travel for exercise ‘as long as it is in their local area’, but does not specify how far people can travel.
Derbyshire Police insisted the distance was ‘at the discretion’ of individual officers and the trip was ‘not in the spirit of the rules’.
The force has previously been criticised for its heavy-handed approach to enforcing the restrictions, and in March released drone footage of dog walkers in the Peak District in an attempt to ‘shame’ them.
And in March, the force dumped black dye into a famous blue lagoon in Harpur Hill near Buxton to prevent Instagrammers from posing for snaps during the lockdown.
It comes as police forces nationwide upped up their enforcement of Covid regulations.
The Broseley and Much Wenlock division of West Mercia Police tweeted last night: ‘There have been two reports of snowballs being thrown last night between 11 and 11.30pm.
‘This is obviously not a justifiable reason to be out of your house, this behaviour is likely to result in a £200 Fixed Penalty Notice for breaking the lockdown rules.’
In Aberdeen, two policeman knocked on a family’s front door after complaints from a neighbour and stormed inside as a woman shouted ‘this is my house, get out of my house’ and children screamed in the background.
Two women, aged 18 and 48, and a 43-year-old man were charged in connection with assaulting police officers and threatening and abusive behaviour.
The footage immediately sparked controversy, with critics accusing the police of ‘oppressive’ behaviour for storming into a private house – while others argued they were just trying to enforce the Covid rules.
At Euston, officers were seen stopping passengers this morning to ask where they were going. Barrister Alex Wright tweeted: ‘Good to see lockdown being taken seriously, but a sad sight that I’d have dreamed of seeing in London.’
Snowdonia National Park has now closed all its car parks to visitors to ‘protect our communities and the NHS’, as officials slammed the public for ‘disregarding’ the law.
In an attempt to clarify the guidance, Leicester City Council’s public health director Professor Ivan Browne today urged residents to visit ‘your nearest park, not your nicest park’, Leicester Live reported.
All car parks in Snowdonia National Park have now been closed to visitors. Pictured is a police car patrolling the beauty spot last night
A police officer stopped a group of three walkers as they headed through Birmingham City Centre amid lockdown
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