Under-fire police chief says controversial Covid-19 tactics will save lives

By Henry Vaughan and Flora Thompson, PA

A police chief criticised for using controversial tactics to enforce the Covid-19 lockdown has said it was worth being ridiculed to save lives.

Derbyshire Police Chief Constable Peter Goodman told the PA news agency he has no regrets after his force filmed walkers with drones to deter visitors to the Peak District.

Police have been told to be “consistent” over their handling of new powers brought in after the Government introduced social-distancing measures last week.

And Dorset Chief Constable James Vaughan said he would come down “like a tonne of bricks” on any officers using heavy-handed methods to enforce the lockdown.

Police can fine or even arrest those flouting the rules under new legislation enacted last Thursday.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps admitted there had been “one or two instances” of police being heavy-handed but said that, in the main, forces are being “sensible”.

Some forces, including South Yorkshire Police and Humberside Police, have launched online forms for the public to report people who appear to be flouting the rules, following claims that some police 101 numbers were being inundated last week with queries.

Lancashire Police issued 123 fines for breaches of the rules over the weekend.

Cheshire Police said on social media that officers had summonsed six people for various offences, including “multiple people from the same house going out to buy ‘non-essential’ items”.

But the force later corrected the figure to five and said all the cases were being reviewed to make sure the response was “proportionate”.

South Wales Police hit out at MP Stephen Kinnock for visiting his father, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, on his birthday; while the Derbyshire force dyed the “blue lagoon” in Buxton black to deter groups of people from gathering at the beauty spot.

Mr Goodman said the dye is an annual tactic deployed to stop people swimming in the dangerous water as the weather turns warmer.

And he defended using drone footage, which former High Court judge Lord Sumption said “shamed our policing traditions”, after elderly residents were left “frightened to death” following an influx of visitors the previous weekend.

“I know it’s caused controversy. I regret that the reputation of Derbyshire constabulary has been hit a bit through this, but I don’t regret what’s happened as a consequence because I think lives will be saved,” he said.

“It’s important that we accept in policing we are finding our way in this and what we are clear about is we’re all in this together.

“So, if we occasionally get things wrong, or people think we get it wrong, then I’m sorry that people think that.

“On this occasion, I think it was a really important conversation to have and we didn’t name and shame anybody, we didn’t show anybody’s faces, we didn’t show any car registration numbers, we kept it all anonymous to make sure we could have a proper conversation with the public.”

He added: “If I get ridiculed on social media for it but one life is saved, then I don’t regret it. And I believe lives will be saved as a consequence.”

Mr Goodman said the new powers have not been used once by his officers, while Mr Vaughan told PA a “small handful” of penalty notices had been issued by Dorset Police, including one to a man who went jet-skiing in Poole Harbour over the weekend.

He said: “We’re asking people to use their common sense.

“There are a few cases I’ve read in the newspapers, whether they’re true or not I don’t know, where police officers seem to be policing the queues at Tesco and telling people they’re buying inappropriate shopping.

“If I hear of that in Dorset, I will come down on that like a tonne of bricks. It’s just not on.”

West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson said in a series of tweets on Tuesday that claims that Britain is becoming a “police state” are “widely off the mark”.

“I think the public are trying to stick to this, which they are, and I think the general comments that have been made by experts and people, they just need to cut us a little bit of slack at the moment, it’s pretty tough.”

Mr Thompson, the head of Britain’s second largest force, said the use of the new powers has been “very, very limited”.

“Here in the West Midlands, where I serve three million people, we’ve used it twice,” he said.

“People have been summonsed regarding failing to follow the restrictions and in one of the cases someone wouldn’t give us their details, so they were arrested until they did, which we can do.

“They were people who were behaving utterly recklessly and unreasonably.”

Guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing to forces said communities must receive a “consistent” level of service from officers along with a “single style and tone”, according to the BBC.

And NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt said forces need to show consistency in encouraging people to follow the coronavirus restrictions.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will constantly be striving to achieve that level of consistency and we will be looking at the way the issues are being dealt with and the good practice as well as things we think maybe we wouldn’t want to do in that way.”

Mr Shapps said it is “sensible” to promote consistency, telling BBC Breakfast: “I think the police are doing a difficult job.

“There will be one or two instances where they have perhaps not approached it in the right way but, in general, actually, across the country not only are people complying very well but, generally speaking, the police are taking a very sensible approach to it.”