Priti Patel tells police to ‘strengthen enforcement’ of coronavirus rules

By Flora Thompson, PA Home Affairs Correspondent
·4-min read

Tougher enforcement of coronavirus restrictions is needed, the Home Secretary has told police chiefs.

Priti Patel made the comments during a meeting of the National Policing Board on Wednesday.

According to her spokesman, she told senior police figures “we now need you to strengthen enforcement”.

The Home Secretary was speaking as police forces called for residents to “show restraint” and “resist the temptation” of gathering for parties ahead of the national lockdown.

Addressing the meeting, which takes place around four times a year to scrutinise the progress of the 20,000 police recruitment campaign and other policing matters, she said: “As our nation battles to suppress coronavirus I am acutely aware that we are asking more from our outstanding officers, and that they have been working flat out to keep people safe.

Essex Police passing out parade
Home Secretary Priti Patel spoke to police chiefs on Wednesday (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

“But the Prime Minister has been clear that he wants to see tougher enforcement of the necessary restrictions in order to save lives.

“We have played our part – strengthening and simplifying the rules to make it easier for officers to act and providing an extra £60 million for enforcement, with £30 million going direct to the police.

“We have empowered and resourced you to do more, and we now need you to strengthen enforcement, and that the law-abiding majority are not endangered by those who flout the rules. I want to thank all of you for the contributions you have made in working through the new restrictions.”

She also said it is “crucial” as the second national lockdown approaches in England that police look to use all powers available to them to tackle what she called “hidden harms”, like stalking, slavery and trafficking, sexual offences and domestic violence.

Appearing to allude to the investigation into an interview by Brexit campaigner Darren Grimes with historian David Starkey, she described freedom of speech as a “cornerstone of our democracy, and a right that we must all defend”.

She said: “In recent weeks we have seen public concern over freedom of speech following investigations into comments made by public figures, so I wanted to set out my thoughts on this here today.

“Decisions of the police to investigate particular cases are clearly an operational matter which I cannot get involved in and will not comment on.

“But as a general principle, while it is the job of the police to maintain order, we also look to you to uphold the law, which in this country, has freedom at its heart.

“Freedom of speech is obviously a cornerstone of our democracy, and a right that we must all defend. Now more so than ever given the debates we are seeing around the coronavirus regulations.”

Starkey attracted widespread criticism after he said slavery was not genocide because there are “so many damn blacks” during the interview, that was posted online.

The probe was reviewed by a senior Metropolitan Police officer, and after further legal advice from the Crown Prosecution Service, it was dropped.

Reacting to the news that the case had been closed, Mr Grimes said his arrest was “truly chilling”, while Starkey said its collapse was “a personal vindication” and the investigation “should never of course have begun”, adding: “From the beginning it was misconceived, oppressive and designed to misuse the criminal law to curtail the proper freedom of expression and debate”.

Superintendent Mike Walker, gold commander for North Yorkshire Police’s response to Covid-19, said: “We must all do what we can to stem the tide of infection. We are in a really serious position now and so we must pull together to save lives.

“We should resist the temptation to gather together tonight ahead of the lockdown and jeopardise people’s safety.”

Police on patrol in Liverpool city centre
Police on patrol in Liverpool city centre (Peter Byrne/PA)

Mr Walker said the force would be putting out extra patrols to ensure public compliance with the regulations and would be applying the four Es approach – engaging, explaining, encouraging and enforcing.

And, in an open letter, the chief constables of five forces in the North West of the country said they would “collectively target” the minority of the public who flout the rules by holding large gatherings, music events and parties.

The senior officers also said they were seeking support from the Government and judiciary to consider how they can rapidly bring to justice those who choose to ignore coronavirus-related fines.

The message from the forces covering Cheshire, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Merseyside comes after a period of tightened restrictions for much of the North West due to the high numbers of Covid-19 cases.

They said the public wanted a “consistent and robust” approach to enforcement and that the introduction of local restrictions had seen forces take a “firmer stance” over restrictions and move more quickly to issue fixed penalty notices.