We can’t enforce relaxed lockdown, say police chiefs

“Devon and Cornwall police said that it dealt with 1,023 incidents in 24 hours, the large majority of which were reports of lockdown breaches, or alcohol-related. About 150 fines were issued at Durdle Door, a coastal beauty spot in Dorset, where motorists had travelled from as far away as Reading, Coventry and Ipswich, a 450-mile round trip.”…..

“David Hepburn, an intensive care consultant in Wales, tweeted: “Just watched the conga lines/street parties on the news. The nation has lost its f***ing mind. We’re strapping in for the second wave. I’m so, so tired, and so pissed off. We’ve had a few days of respite and I was starting to feel hopeful. Can’t believe I was so naive.””

Fiona Hamilton, Crime Editor | Kat Lay, Health Correspondent www.thetimes.co.uk

The lockdown has been rendered unenforceable by “reckless and irresponsible” advance briefings about a relaxation of the rules, police chiefs told The Times.

Senior officers revealed breaches all over the country at the weekend, with daytrippers travelling to beauty spots, friends gathering in parks and socially distanced street parties spilling into houses. The hot weather was a factor, but members of the public were also encouraged by briefings from anonymous officials about the relaxation of lockdown before last night’s announcement by Boris Johnson.

John Apter, chairman of the Police Federation, responded to the prime minister’s statement with a call for clarity in messaging. He said that some members of the public had acted as though the lockdown was over, and there was “extreme pressure” on frontline police officers.

“Police officers will continue to do their best, but their work must be based on crystal-clear guidance, not loose rules that are left open to interpretation, because that will be grossly unfair on officers whose job is already challenging,” he said.

How the lockdown has changed policing

One chief constable said that the mixed message had resulted in a huge increase in the number of people in parks and on the streets and that, apart from moving on large groups, the lockdown was impossible to police. He added: “The briefings about freedom totally burst the dam. It was irresponsible.”

The Times revealed last week that senior officers had emphasised to government that they wanted to take a less coercive approach as restrictions were eased. A National Police Chiefs’ Council document outlining principles for the next stage highlighted the importance of “no surprises”, meaning that forces should be given time to digest changes and alter their approach if needed.

The same document also called for clarification of police responsibilities and “unambiguous rule changes”.

Another senior source said that none of that had been achieved: “The clarity of message has gone and all across the country there were people gathering in parks and having house parties. Some pubs opened secretly. People were taking very, very long journeys to beauty spots.”

Devon and Cornwall police said that it dealt with 1,023 incidents in 24 hours, the large majority of which were reports of lockdown breaches, or alcohol-related. About 150 fines were issued at Durdle Door, a coastal beauty spot in Dorset, where motorists had travelled from as far away as Reading, Coventry and Ipswich, a 450-mile round trip.

Day trippers flocked to the Lake District and to Southend. Street parties were carried out with social distancing but some became house parties. One resulted in a a conga line where participants were clearly within two metres of each other. Seven people were arrested in Bolton after a birthday party attended by 40 adults and children.

In Hackney, east London, the police tweeted that they were fighting a losing battle in parks where hundreds of people sat drinking. Officers on bicycles were sent to Hyde Park, where large groups had picnics.

Ken Marsh, of the Metropolitan Police Federation, said that the pandemic response had been “wishy-washy” and the authorities “needed to be firmer right from the beginning”.

Medical staff have reacted with fury to pictures of people in crowded parks or celebrating VE day with street parties, saying that the behaviour could lead to another peak in virus cases. Patrick Connor, a paramedic with the Welsh Ambulance Service, said: “We’re definitely in for a second wave of Covid-19. These people are a disgrace. I’ve had enough of people putting our lives at risk and those of colleagues and our families who we go home to.”

David Hepburn, an intensive care consultant in Wales, tweeted: “Just watched the conga lines/street parties on the news. The nation has lost its f***ing mind. We’re strapping in for the second wave. I’m so, so tired, and so pissed off. We’ve had a few days of respite and I was starting to feel hopeful. Can’t believe I was so naive.”