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Fines 'increasingly likely' for Covid rule breakers, Met Police Commissioner warns
12 January 2021, 05:46 | Updated: 12 January 2021, 08:37
Dame Cressida Dick has warned that people who break Covid-19 rules are "increasingly likely" to face fines as cases continue to soar across the country.
The Met Police commissioner said officers were still finding people breaking the rules, despite clear laws that ban social gatherings.
"Most people are doing the right thing to keep each other safe, but sadly a small minority of people continue to flagrantly ignore the rules, for example by holding house parties, meeting in basements to gamble or breaking into railway arches for unlicensed raves," she said.
Writing in The Times, she stated that it is "preposterous that anyone could be unaware of our duty to do all we can to stop the spread of the virus.
"We have been clear that those who breach Covid-19 legislation are increasingly likely to face fines."
Dame Cressida said officers would now be moving "much more quickly to enforcement action".
She also praised the majority of Londoners for following Covid-19 legislation, but said her colleagues had seen others "flagrantly ignoring the rules" by holding house parties, meeting in basements to gamble or breaking into railway arches for unlicensed raves.
Ms Dick wrote: "We will still be engaging, explaining and encouraging but those who break the rules or refuse to comply where they should without good reason will find officers moving much more quickly to enforcement action."
Police chiefs have been under increasing pressure to enforce the lockdown laws, with officers now stopping people to ask where they have travelled from.
In recent days, people have been fined for using pubs and gyms as rulebreakers continue to flout the guidance.
In one case, two women were fined £200 each by Derbyshire Police when they drove five miles for a walk together - but the force has since withdrawn the penalties.
The incident gained widespread media attention, and the National Police Chiefs' Council has now issued fresh guidance to officers.
Crime and Policing Minister Kit Malthouse told LBC: "I agree with Dame Cressida. It seems preposterous that after 10 months anyone could be ignorant to the rules.
"Also, it is frankly ignorant to the perilous state that we find ourselves in with the NHS rammed to capacity, with numbers of infections rising on a daily basic and sadly deaths following them.
"That's why we are sending out a strong message today that we need people to comply with the rules to make sure that this is the last serious lockdown that we have to face.
"We know that the vast majority of people will apply their common sense and seethe reasoning behind the rules and comply.
"And where they don't the police will be moving much more quickly before enforcement."
He continued: "We are asking the police to do things they have never done before, and I would ask people to give the police a break.
"It's a fine line between going out to exercise with one person and going out for socialisation and recreation purposes, which is not allowed in the rules.
"We have to give the police a break as they bed these new rules in."
Her comments come as Health Secretary Matt Hancock told a Downing Street press conference that the government "does not rule out further action if needed", and reminds the public not to be complacent.
Mr Hancock has pleaded with the public to follow coronavirus rules and reduce all social contact that is not "absolutely" necessary.
Speaking on Tuesday, he said that the new variant of coronavirus is "highly contagious and it is putting the NHS under very significant pressure".
Mr Hancock echoed England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty in saying "we're at the worst point in this pandemic".
And he said: "The NHS, more than ever before, needs everybody to be doing something right now - and that something is to follow the rules.
"I know there has been speculation about more restrictions, and we don't rule out taking further action if it is needed, but it is your actions now that can make a difference.
"Stay at home, and please reduce all social contact that is not absolutely strictly necessary. That's what is needed: act like you have the virus."
The Met Commissioner also said frontline police officers should be "properly recognised" in the prioritisation list for Covid vaccines.
She added her colleagues were "not immune to the virus" and has asked the Government to consider the case for inoculating frontline workers earlier than planned.
Her views echo with those of John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales, who has said rank and file officers urgently needed the "protection they deserve", and asked for officers to be prioritised after society's most vulnerable groups and NHS workers have been given the jab.
Ms Dick said: "By necessity, frontline police officers and staff interact with many people every day and are sometimes inevitably in close contact, whether helping injured victims or detaining offenders.
"I have been asking the government to consider that the unique environments in which frontline colleagues work are properly recognised in the prioritisation process for vaccines.
"The case for frontline officers so they can continue to keep others, as well as themselves, safe is very strong. I am delighted to hear this is being actively discussed."
The Metropolitan Police will be supplying 75 drivers to help their "overstretched" London Ambulance Service colleagues, Ms Dick said, writing the force was taking "unusual steps to assist our uniformed colleagues".
Speaking on LBC, Kit Malthouse said that police have a "strong case" to get the vaccine soon.
"Well we are asking police officers to do extraordinary things on the frontline and sometimes grapple with people not knowing whether they’ve got COVID or not," he said.
"Once we’ve vaccinated the top four groups and then we will have done 80 odd per cent of those people that are most vulnerable, I do think that along with other frontline workers, the police have a strong case and certainly that’s what we’re saying internally and to the committee who make these decisions about who gets vaccinated.
"Nobody wants to muscle vulnerable people out of the way, but there comes a point where we have to look at police resilience and bear that in mind and recognise that all those fantastic men and women in blue that we’re asking out there to do this job in front, they do need us to think carefully about their health."
On a visit to a vaccination centre in Bristol, he said: "We're going to keep the rules under constant review.
"Where we have to tighten them, we will.
"We have rules in place already which, if they are properly followed, we believe can make a huge, huge difference.
"It's now that people need to focus ... when they're out shopping, whether they're buying cups of coffee in the park or whatever it happens to be, they need to think about spreading the disease."
He added: "Now is the moment for maximum vigilance, maximum observance of the rules.
"Of course, if we feel that things are not being properly observed then we may have to do more."