Coronavirus: Senior officer warns police over lockdown tactics after 'over-zealous' claims

David Mercer, news reporter

One of the UK's most senior police officers has warned forces that their handling of the coronavirus crisis will be remembered for generations to come after some were accused of overreaching their powers.

But Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu also urged the British public not to judge officers too harshly in their policing of the UK's COVID-19 lockdown measures.

Britons breaking coronavirus lockdown rules can be arrested or fined £60 under new police powers to ensure people stay at home and avoid non-essential travel.

But there have been claims of "over-zealous" policing after one force said it was prosecuting people for activities including driving "due to boredom" and "going to the shops" with other members of the same household.

Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Basu acknowledged forces were being compelled to use powers he "never imagined a British police officer would be asked to use".

"Everyone in policing is acutely aware that how we police this pandemic will be remembered for many years to come," he said.

"Preserving the trust and confidence of the public by policing by consent is our mantra, and has been since 1829.

"There will be a period of readjustment to our new responsibilities, which no police officer ever thought they would have.

"Not every police response will be surefooted and some will spark healthy debate. We should not judge too harshly."

Mr Basu urged officers to heed calls by two of Britain's most senior officers, Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick and Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC), that "persuasion and education to do the right thing is our primary goal", rather than being too quick to impose punishments.

Mr Hewitt has written to police chiefs across forces in England and Wales about the need for greater consistency in applying the emergency powers, according to the Guardian.

Senior police commanders are understood to have been concerned over how the unprecedented powers were being implemented by some forces, with Lancashire Police issuing 123 enforcement notices since Thursday and Bedfordshire Police issuing none, the newspaper reported.

Last week Derbyshire Police defended using drones to deter people from flouting the measures after the force filmed people rambling in the Peak District.

Meanwhile, legal and human rights experts have described Warrington Police's actions as "dystopian" after officers opted to summon people to court for supposed offences such as "returning from parties".

Critics argued the measures were not justified by the new legislation and risked harming the ongoing effort to combat the coronavirus outbreak.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps suggested there were "individual examples" where police acted "perhaps a bit further than they should have gone'".

"We're asking the police to do something completely unprecedented here, I think most of the public actually just want to help the police do that job," he told Sky News' Kay Burley @ Breakfast Show.

Asked about the way police were interpreting the new rules, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Monday that "common sense" should be used and he backed officers "doing a very difficult job in unprecedented circumstances".

:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker