13 January 2021
Derbyshire Police Federation chair Tony Wetton has called for clearer guidance for officers policing the latest lockdown restrictions.
Tony says the lockdown legislation and restrictions are fast-changing and often officers on the ground don’t have the guidance about what constitutes a breach, particularly around exercise and recreation.
He was speaking during a discussion on lockdown legislation - following the fines issued to two women who visited Foremark Reservoir - on the Stephen Nolan radio programme on BBC Radio 5 Live (the feature starts five minutes and 58 seconds in).
Tony was joined by Lord Sumption, the former Supreme Court judge.
Tony said: “It’s important to put it all into context. This is not a police matter we’re dealing with here, this is a global medical emergency. The police’s role in this is to protect the NHS, save lives by preventing the spread of the virus.
“I think what it does is highlight the lack of clarity and the lack of guidance that’s around at the moment, and the fast-changing nature of the legislation and the restrictions we’re asked to police.”
He added: “The vast majority of the public realise the seriousness of what we’re going through, the potential consequences for loved ones and vulnerable people.
“We’re enforcing breaches of the restrictions that have been put in place to protect the public. We’re dealing with a small number of people.
“We’re not making the law up as we go along, we’re trying to enforce the law. There’s a degree of professional judgement around that, particularly with the fast-changes that are going on.”
Tony said the National Police Chiefs’ Council has updated its guidance on how far people can travel from their homes to exercise.
“There’s no limit on how far people can travel to exercise,” he said, “They can’t travel for the purposes of recreation.”
But Tony said that it was difficult for officers to distinguish between exercise, which is lawful under the current restrictions, and recreation which is not a lawful excuse to leave home.
“This is where professional judgement and discretion of police officers on the ground comes in,” he said. “The police officers, of course, are at the sharp end. They’re having to make decisions about whether people are legitimately arriving in Derbyshire beauty spots for exercise or are they here for recreation?”
He added: “We need clarity about what’s expected of the public and what’s expected of the police. There’s been some clarity needed around how far people can travel, and we’ve got that now.
“We need clarity about what’s exercise and what’s recreation. And we need the guidance and clarity coming through as quickly as it’s changing.”
Tony praised the Derbyshire public for their support and the sacrifices they’ve made during the pandemic.
“The public of Derbyshire have been incredibly supportive of the way the police have handled the pandemic so far,” he said, “We’re dealing with a small number of people. That’s why we get involved but the public have been hugely supportive.”
Tony has also highlighted a step change in terms of the message to officers from the Government and chief officers around enforcement of the breaches of the restrictions.
He explained: “For months the approach has been to engage, to explain why the individual’s behaviour constitutes a breach, to encourage voluntary compliance and, only as a last resort, to enforce – usually with a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN).
“We have all, as members of the public, had months to get used to what is expected of us in the midst of this devastating and worsening crisis. Officers are now being directed to concentrate less on encouragement and to move to enforcement much sooner. It is really important to note that there has been no criticism from Derbyshire Police of the officers involved in the recent incident – they were acting as instructed.
“The Force has accepted that belated guidance received from the National Police Chiefs’ Council on Friday evening made it clear that, while recreation is unlawful, there is no restriction in law on travelling to exercise. It has reviewed FPNs which had been issued to ensure they met those requirements.
“It is clear that some did not and the Force has quite properly rectified that mistake and apologised. The Government guidance is that we should all exercise locally - within the village, town or part of the city where we live - and that is what we should all do. Please keep yourself and your loved ones safe.”