Britain’s largest police force told enforcing coronavirus rules is ‘last resort’

By Margaret Davis, PA Crime Correspondent

The head of Britain’s largest police force has told officers that new powers to enforce coronavirus lockdown rules should only be used as a last resort.

Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick said her approach is to “help educate and encourage” the public to comply with the tightest restrictions seen in peacetime in the UK.

Her comments came after a number of forces were accused of being overzealous in their approach to the new rules.

South Wales Police hit out at MP Stephen Kinnock for visiting his father, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, on his birthday.

Officers in Warrington summonsed six people for various offences, including someone who went out for a drive because they were bored, and multiple people from the same house going out to buy “non-essential” items.

Police in Lancashire issued 123 fines over the weekend for breaking the new rules, while officers in Cleveland issued 16, mainly for drivers making unnecessary journeys.

Former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Anderson said: “Police in their words and actions need to be clear about the difference between rules and guidance, both to maintain public confidence in their role and to discourage snoopers, snitches and vigilantes.

“Serious breaches should attract fines, but news reports of over-enforcement by police and public are deterring the timid from exercising even the limited freedoms they have.”

He said that Ms Dick had “set the right tone” with her emphasis on explaining the new rules to members of the public.

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.

“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.”

She said her officers have “gently” cleared gatherings of people when discovered and are not routinely stopping drivers.

“We’re not doing what you might call road blocks or anything like that,” she said. “Yes, we stop motorists sometimes, we have a conversation with them.

“They might have a light out, we might talk to them, we might ask them about their journey. Our approach is one entirely trying to help educate and encourage people.

“I think we’re all trying to get used to this. My approach in my service is one entirely of trying to encourage people, to engage with people, to have conversations with people.”