Coronavirus: Cambridge Police checks no one is in non-essential aisles at supermarket

David Chipakupaku, news reporter

Cambridge Police has had to clarify its social distancing guidelines after an officer posted on social media they were monitoring "non-essential" supermarket aisles.

The force said in a now-deleted tweet that they had been to a local branch of Tesco in the village of Bar Hill, north of Cambridge, as part of visits to supermarkets and green spaces across Easter weekend.

Cambridge Police said it was "good to see everyone was abiding by social distancing measures and the non essential aisles were empty".

But the post has attracted backlash from users asking what police would define as a "non-essential".

One user, @setoacnna, asked: "What are 'non essential' aisles in a supermarket? If my kettle is bust for example that's pretty essential to replace."

Another, @BeccadT, said: "If I'm in the supermarket for essentials, why can't I pick up, I don't know, some nice moisturiser or some chocolate? Not essential but they will help me through stay at home life."

@MattBirdLabour tweeted: "Cambridge police do not have the authority to judge what is an essential purchase. Nor are non-essential purchases illegal. This is an outrageous power grab by the police, and we must stand against it."

Cambridge Police said in follow-up tweets that the officer who had made the post had been spoken to.

They said: "While the majority of people in our communities are abiding by the social distancing measures we have had to issue a small number of fines to those who are flouting the rules.

"None of these have been in relation to shopping or supermarket visits."

Some users have in turn criticised the force for accepting the "generous donation" of "chocolate goodies" from a local business.

"Are they essential items?" one user asked.

Downing Street said shops that are allowed to remain open during the lockdown are free to sell "whatever they have in stock".

South Yorkshire Police have also apologised after a video circulating on social media appears to show an officer reprimanding a man for using his front lawn.

The video, which was originally posted on Facebook, shows an officer telling a man "you cannot come on your front garden".

The force said on Twitter, where the video has so far been viewed almost 300,000 times, that the officer in the video had good intentions but was "ill-informed".

"We've spoken to the officer concerned and made our approach absolutely clear. Again, we apologise for any inconvenience caused."

It comes a day after Northamptonshire Police were forced to reassure the public they would not be searching their supermarket trolleys.

Northamptonshire Police chief constable Nick Adderley apologised after saying his force was "only a few days away" from "marshalling supermarkets and checking the items in baskets and trolleys to see whether it's a legitimate, necessary item".

Chief Constable Adderley said he may have been "clumsy" in his language.

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In her first interview since the coronavirus pandemic, Home Secretary Priti Patel has asked officers to use common sense when enforcing restriction measures.

She told talkRADIO that police checking supermarket trolleys was "not appropriate" and the approach was not part of government guidance.

Ms Patel also said the government was "absolutely not" considering tougher lockdown measures.

"This is not about heavy-handed law enforcement. I think I really must emphasise that. There's a balance to this.

"I do pay credit to the police because these are extraordinary times. They exercise their judgement."

Under current rules, police have the powers to ensure people stay at home and avoid non-essential travel.

If members of the public do not comply, police may:

If a fine is not paid, a person could be taken to court, where magistrates will be able to impose unlimited fines.

And, if an individual continues to refuse to comply, police may arrest them.