Two women who received £200 fixed penalty notices after travelling to a reservoir for a walk around five miles from their homes have had their fines rescinded, Derbyshire Police have said.
Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, both 27, said they were surrounded by officers when they arrived separately in cars at Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire on Wednesday.
The friends believed that they were following guidelines as they only live 10 minutes away in Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leicestershire.
But the pair were stunned when police issued them with hefty fines after officers claimed they were not allowed to bring a hot drink on a walk because it was “classed as a picnic”.
Outdoor exercise or meeting a friend, while keeping social distance, in a park or public space is deemed to be okay, following suggestions from prime minister Boris Johnson.
The force was heavily criticised by MPs and human rights lawyers who pointed out that there were no legal restrictions on the distance one could travel for exercise.
Watch: What you can and can't do during England's third national lockdown
The force’s chief constable Rachel Swann said on Monday: “I can confirm that a review into fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued by my officers last week has been completed.
“Two fixed penalty notices that were handed to two women who had travelled to Foremark Reservoir on Thursday have been withdrawn and we have notified the women directly, apologising for any concern caused.
“I support the fact that the officers were trying to encourage people to stay local to prevent the spread of the virus. This is a responsibility for all of us.
“All of our FPNs issued in conjunction with the COVID guidance are subject to review. Having received clarification of the guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on Friday, these FPNs as well as a small number of others issued, were reviewed in line with that latest advice, and so it is right that we have taken this action.
Swann continued: “At present there is no clear limit as to how far people can travel to exercise, but Government guidance strongly requests people do not leave their local area.
“We all have a responsibility to follow both the regulations and the guidance put in place to protect the NHS and save lives, and I would expect my officers to continue to take the four Es approach; to engage, explain, encourage, and enforce, to help us to keep them and their communities safe.
“It is important to note that the force has received complaints from residents living in some scenic parts of Derbyshire asking that we carry out activity to stop others travelling to the area because it becomes more crowded for local people.
“Our activity is aimed to address these concerns and to remind people to stay local. We will continue to show a visible presence in these areas and encourage people to comply with the guidance.”
Following the backlash, Derbyshire Police agreed to review the fines they handed to the two women after initially saying the pair had “not acted in the spirit of the rules” when they drove to the location.
Jessica Allen told the BBC: "We are happy to hear that Derbyshire Police have been told to not be so heavy-handed with fines and return to the Four Es they were originally doing.
"We are yet to hear anything regarding our fine but if we have managed to save somebody the worry of going for a walk and fearing they would be fined then we have done what we set out to do."
Police forces across the country have been ramping up efforts to crackdown on coronavirus lockdown flouters due to concern over the level of public compliance with current regulations, the Daily Telegraph reported.
Lockdown rules for England say people should only leave their homes for essential reasons, like shopping for necessities, exercise, or going to work if they can’t do so from home.
Social visits are not allowed but it is possible to exercise with someone who doesn’t live with you, though travel outside the local area is discouraged.
Reports have emerged that ministers are considering tighter restrictions amid concern over how police have enforced the rules.
Watch: Police warn coronavirus rule-breakers they are ‘increasingly likely’ to be fined