People SHOULD call the police if they see ‘large’ gatherings defying coronavirus lockdown, says chief constable, as officers are set to get sweeping new powers ‘to FORCE people to go home’
- People should only leave house for food, medicine, exercise or work if necessary
- Government has also imposed a ban on all gatherings of more than two people
- Senior police are now urging people to report any large gatherings of people
- Meanwhile, ministers ‘considering allowing police to force people to go home’
- Coronavirus symptoms: what are they and should you see a doctor?
Members of the public who see a large gathering of people during the coronavirus lockdown should call the police, according to a chief constable.
Andy Cooke, the chief constable of Merseyside Police, said he would ‘expect’ people to report large groups but not to bother officers if it is ‘two or three people stood at the end of the road’.
Meanwhile, ministers are said to be considering giving the police the power to force people to go home as a last resort if all other attempts to get groups to disperse fail.
It is thought officers will initially encourage groups to go home and if they refuse fines of £30 will be dished out
Further failure to comply could then see officers use reasonable force to escort rule breakers home.
Public gatherings of more than two people are banned during the coronavirus lockdown. Members of the public have been told to report large groups to the police. Pictured are police on the Millenium Bridge in London yesterday
Andy Cooke, the chief constable of Merseyside Police, said he would ‘expect’ people to report large groups but not to bother officers if it is ‘two or three people stood at the end of the road’
Under the terms of Boris Johnson’s lockdown people are only allowed to leave the house for food, medicine, exercise or to go to work if ‘absolutely necessary’.
Public gatherings of more than two people have been banned and the government expects the ‘overwhelming majority’ of people to stick to the measures.
But there are concerns some people could continue to meet in groups, scuppering efforts to stop the spread of the deadly disease.
Mr Cooke, speaking on his first day back at work after contracting the virus himself, said members of the public needed to be ‘sensible’.
Asked what people should do if they see a gathering of dozens of people, he told The Times: ‘We would expect people to call us … [but] would urge them to be sensible.
‘When you’ve got two or three people stood at the end of the road we don’t need to be told.
‘The great thing is we police by consent. Staff have been instructed to encourage people, convince people, interact with people. The use of the powers will be very much a last resort.’
Mr Cooke said 12 per cent of his staff were currently off sick or self-isolating – a figure likely to be replicated at other forces across the country, illustrating the resourcing challenge the lockdown could present.
Police have already started to adopt their own methods for dispersing groups with Manchester police reportedly using sirens and a loud hailer while officers in Leicester have been using drones.
West Midlands Police echoed a similar sentiment to Mr Cooke and said people should only ‘advise us if there are large scale breaches with large numbers of people congregating’.
Anthony Stansfeld, the police and crime commissioner in Thames Valley, reportedly said he did not think ‘snitching to the police’ was necessary.
He said it should only take place in the ‘most extreme circumstances’.
It came as the government was said to be weighing up whether police will be able to use force to make people go home during the lockdown.
More details of the approach officers will be asked to take are expected to be announced today but it is thought they will be told to follow a ‘four point’ plan.
That plan will likely see them initially engage with people who are outside, then explain to them the terms of the lockdown, then encourage them to go home.
Only then would they move onto enforcement action, starting with imposing a fine.
According to The Guardian, the government could allow the police to use reasonable force as a last resort if people do not comply with the fine.
The fine will start at £30 but Downing Street has said it will increase it significantly if it proves to be an inadequate deterrent.
Non-payment of the fine will lead to a court appearance and a criminal record. People will have 14 days to pay.
It is thought children in groups could be taken home to their parents but it is unclear whether they would be fined and whether it would be up to their parents to pay.
Concerns have been expressed about what enforcing the lockdown could mean for the relationship between the police and the public.
Stephen White, acting police and crime commissioner for Durham, said: ‘We don’t want to have a society when you step out the door there is a cop saying: “Where are you going?”‘
Mr White said the application of the new powers was going to be a ‘minefield’ as he asked on what grounds fines would be issued and how the use of the powers would be monitored.
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