Police criticised for over-stepping the mark with lockdown sanctions

Police criticised for over-stepping the mark with lockdown sanctions

Police have been criticised for taking lockdown enforcements too far, as they exercise new powers to sanction UK rule breakers.

The government implemented the unprecedented restrictions for three weeks after the public were not seeming to take social distancing seriously enough. Since Boris Johnson locked down the nation last week, there have still been cases of people flouting the rules by sunbathing in groups, playing football and hosting house parties and barbecues.

However, some forces have been criticised for taking their new powers too far, after council enforcement officers wrongly ordered corner shops to stop selling Easter eggs.

Former High Court judge, Lord Sumption, has criticised Derbyshire Police for having ‘shamed our policing traditions’ for stopping people exercising in the Peak District. It comes after the force used a drone to follow a couple walking their dog and posted the footage on Twitter, warning the public against ‘non-essential’ travel.

Lord Sumption said such restrictions risk turning the UK into a ‘police state’, adding the force does not have legal power to enforce ‘ministers’ wishes’ which are not law.

He told Radio Four’s World At One: ‘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 is a state in which a government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers’ wishes’.

Derbyshire Police said its advice to the public was ‘in line with national government instruction’. It comes after the force also revealed it had dyed black the Blue Lagoon in Harpur Hill near Buxton, in a bid to stop groups of tourists flocking to the nature spot.

Derbyshire Police said the ‘tactic’ has been used since 2013, adding it has received ‘high levels of local public support’.

Lord Sumption also warned that the public are displaying ‘collective hysteria’ over the pandemic. He added: ‘The pressure on politicians has come from the public, they want action. They don’t pause to ask whether the action will work, they don’t ask themselves whether the cost will be worth paying – they want action anyway…

‘Hysteria is infectious. We are working ourselves up into a lather in which we exaggerate the threat and stop asking ourselves whether the cure may be worse than the disease’.

He added: ‘Yes, this is serious, and, yes, it’s understandable that people cry out to the Government, but the real question is, is this serious enough to warrant putting most of our population into house imprisonment, wrecking our economy for an indefinite period, destroying businesses that honest and hard-working people have taken years to build up, saddling future generations with debt?’

Meanwhile, over the weekend, Lancashire Police issued 123 fines for breaches of the rules, while South Wales Police hit out at MP Stephen Kinnock for visiting his father, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, on his birthday.

Officers in Cheshire summonsed six people for various offences, including multiple people from the same house going out to buy ‘non-essential’ items.

Jules Carey from legal firm Bindmans said the police need to make a ‘cultural shift’ in using the new powers to protect public health rather than prevent disorder.

He said: ‘The credibility of officers and forces will quickly be called into question if they fail to understand what is required of them.

‘What is required of them is the necessary and proportionate enforcement of the restrictions put in place to protect society; what they must avoid is overlaying the current health crisis with an atmosphere of tyranny and a sense of dystopia by setting up roadblocks, flying drones and overzealous policing on the ground.’

Britain’s most senior police officer, Dame Cressida Dick, has told her force only to use the new powers, which allow them to fine or arrest those who break lockdown laws, as a last resort.

She told LBC: ‘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’.

Guidance has been issued to the 43 police forces in England and Wales by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, but it has not yet been made public.