Coronavirus 'police state' claims 'widely off the mark' - top cop says

31 March 2020, 08:22

Police have stepped up enforcement measures in some areas
Police have stepped up enforcement measures in some areas. Picture: PA
EJ Ward

By EJ Ward

West Midlands Police chief constable Dave Thompson said arguments that Britain was becoming a "police state" due to the coronavirus restrictions were "widely off the mark".

Police have faced allegations of "over-zealous" policing of the Government's social distancing regulations, while one Minister has told reporters there have been "one or two instances" of police being heavy-handed.

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Complaints have included that people have been fined £60 for going out to buy items deemed non-essential, or for going on a drive due to boredom.

Read more: Can I drive during the UK coronavirus lockdown?

In a series of tweets, the highest-ranked police officer in the West Midlands said: "Last week the Prime Minister asked the public to modify their behaviour as part of #StayHomeSaveLives. This was urgent and policing acted to support without laws to do it til Friday. The laws do not cover all the gov advice.

Read more: Are the police stopping people who go outside during the Covid-19 lockdown?

"This public were looking for support from the police all last week. They are calling us re breaches of advice that are not within the law. Officers and staff are doing their best and the public are following the advice. The use of powers is minimal.

"There have been a small number of cases I have seen where I think this could have been done differently. However comments re police state are widely off the mark. Time to be supporting the police as staff are doing a marvellous job in difficult circs."

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But Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said the police were doing a good job under difficult circumstances.

He told LBC's Nick Ferrari that "there will be one or two examples which are the exceptions which prove the rule."

He added that the use of drones by police was clearly "controversial," and he didn't know if "the police will be using that particular technique again."

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The National Police Chiefs Council told LBC News the Government has been clear that it "expects people to do the right thing in order to protect the NHS and save lives."

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A spokesperson said: "Forces will continue to encourage and support local communities to comply fully with these restrictions.  We have no desire to use the formal powers now made available to policing, and it’s important to note that the vast majority are following the restrictions. However, it is right that we’re able to enforce against those who disregard these measures and put people at risk."

Currently policing guidance says officers should be "engaging, explaining and encouraging" members of the public to follow the restrictions.

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The NPCC said this will include asking whether an individual is aware of the government request; establishing individual circumstances and asking how quickly someone can comply.

"Officers will also explain the risks to public health, and to the NHS in line with government guidance and encourage voluntary compliance," the policing body said.