The police may start checking shopping trolleys to make sure people are only buying essentials amid the Covid-19 lockdown, one police chief has threatened.
Chief Constable Nick Adderley, of Northamptonshire Police, said his force is only ‘a few days away’ from introducing the extreme measures. Other enforcement action being considered are road blocks to stop people travelling and flouting coronavirus regulations, he said.
CC Adderley admitted that government guidance has been ‘really ambiguous’ and he has therefore asked his officers to ‘use common sense’ in how they approach the public.
There are fears that good weather over the extended bank holiday weekend will see record numbers of the public breaking social distancing rules.
Speaking at a press conference today, the chief constable said a ‘three-week grace period’ is over in the county and the force will now be issuing fines and arresting people breaking the rules.
Strict measures to be implemented could include ‘marshalling’ supermarkets and checking the items in baskets and trolleys, he said.
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Police have come under criticism for being too heavy handed in their response to the government’s guidance after being given new powers to enforce distancing measures.
But CC Adderley claims forces ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’ when it comes to policing the new rules but that guidance on how to police the rules ‘could be clearer’.
He said: ‘I really need to emphasise the point, this is about saving people’s lives, this is the really serious end of what we do.
‘The role of the police is to preserve lives and protect property and we have to do that and we will do that.
‘If things don’t improve, and we don’t get the compliance we would expect, then the next stage will be road blocks and it will be stopping people to ask why they are going, where they’re going.
‘This is about reasonableness and if people are not reasonable in terms of the journeys and the trips they are taking, they are going to fall foul of the law.
‘We will not, at this stage, be setting up road blocks. We will not, at this stage, start to marshal supermarkets and checking the items in baskets and trolleys to see whether it’s a legitimate, necessary item.
‘But again, be under no illusion, if people do not heed the warnings and the pleas I’m making today, we will start to do that.’
His comments have been backed up by Met Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick who earlier said that people who refuse to leave public spaces during the current lockdown, when asked by police, ‘will be forced to do so’.
Following news of people going against restrictions and sunbathing in parks, she said the public will be encouraged to abide by the rules and, if necessary, asked to move on. Breaking the rules on gatherings can result in enforcement, Dame Cressida said.
On the clarity of government guidance on policing the regulations, Mr Adderley said: ‘The law itself in terms of the five or six points that have come out in terms of the Coronavirus Bill – they are quite simple in terms of their narrative.
‘But the interpretation of that is very, very difficult. The issue about, what is a necessary item, only go out for necessities – what is a necessity?
‘If we’re stopping somebody because they’ve bought a barbecue set or they’ve bought a child’s toy, you could argue that’s not necessary.
‘On the other hand, you could argue it absolutely is necessary – because in terms of the mental health and trying to keep people entertained over this period of lockdown, that is very necessary.
‘So the nuances and the interpretation is really ambiguous – that’s why I’m saying to officers, use your common sense, use your discretion. I think the guidance could be even clearer, but it’s where do you draw the line?’
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