Police told to use coronavirus lockdown enforcement as 'last resort' after row over 'overzealous' response

April Roach
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Police have been told to use enforcement measures during the coronavirus lockdown as a last resort amid a row over "overzealous" behaviour by some officers.

On Thursday police were given new powers under an emergency law to serve on the spot fines and disperse gatherings of more than two people.

Powers under the emergency law contradicted statements made by government officials about what they wanted the police to do and was a source of confusion for UK police forces.

Most recently Derbyshire Police came under fire for using drones to film people visiting rural beauty spots while North Yorkshire Police set up checkpoints to stop vehicles and ask drivers if their journey were essential.

Police were given new powers to serve on the spot fines. (REUTERS)

A spokesman from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) told the Standard a briefing published on the College of Policing's website late on Tuesday was not an update of the guidelines but information that UK police forces had already been presented with on Thursday when the emergency law came into effect.

He said the advice given to officers assumes they will "only use enforcement in a last resort" when ensuring people are following the coronavirus lockdown measures.

The briefing states the initial police response should be to encourage "voluntary compliance" and officers are to follow the four-step escalation principles of engage, explain, encourage and enforce.

The guidance advises that officers "police by consent" and that during the pandemic people must have a reasonable excuse to leave their homes.

"The coronavirus act and coronavirus regulations do not explicitly confer any powers on police officers to stop vehicles," says the briefing.

"Use your judgement and common sense; for example, people will want to exercise locally and may need to travel to do so, we don't want the public sanctioned for travelling a reasonable distance to exercise.

Police at a vehicle checkpoint in York amid the coronavirus lockdown (PA)

"Road checks on every vehicle is equally disproportionate. We should reserve enforcement only for individuals who have not responded to engage, explain, and encourage, where public health is at risk."

The briefing adds parents or guardians can be fined if their children break the law.

If offenders are over the age of 18, police can issue them with a fine of £60 payable within 28 days. This is reduced to £30 if paid within 14 days.

Repeat offenders could be fined £120 for a second offence and the penalty will continue to double for each subsequent issue, and this is capped at £960.

Several forces have reportedly taken no action since the emergency laws came into effect, while Lancashire police have taken enforcement action 123 times and Cheshire Police summonsed six people for various offences, including travelling to purchase "non-essential" items.

The NPCC spokesman said they were committed to providing more details about the numbers of enforcement notices that had been issued from UK police forces in due course.

Another police briefing on The Coronavirus Act is set to be published by Friday, April 3.​

Speaking about the new powers when they were first issued, NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt, said he was confident the "overwhelming majority of people" understood the gravity of the situation we face with the pandemic.

"There will be a small number who do not and we will engage with them, explain to them and encourage them to go home," he said.

"If they refuse to do the right thing we are fully prepared to use these new powers.

“The Home Secretary’s package of measures for those returning to policing and the support of our special constables will boost our resources as we come under increasing pressure – it is hugely welcomed.”

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