Priti Patel defends police ramping up fines in latest lockdown

Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the way police have handed out fines for lockdown breaches, stressing that there is a ‘need for strong enforcement’.

Police were branded ‘bonkers’ after handing out £200 fines to two women who drove separately to go for a walk at a remote beauty spot five miles from their homes.

One of the would-be walkers, Jessica Allen, said officers told them their takeaway cups of peppermint tea from Starbucks were ‘classed as a picnic’, which would not be allowed under current restrictions.

Derbyshire Police have since confirmed it would be reviewing all fixed penalty notices issued during the new national lockdown in England after received clarification about the coronavirus regulations from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

While people are strongly urged not to travel outside of their local area – something which isn’t clearly defined – Derbyshire Police accepted the rules don’t restrict distance travelled for exercise.

West Mercia Police also tweeted on Friday that people in Shropshire should be aware that having a snowball fight was ‘obviously not a justifiable reason to be out of your house’ and warned that such frolicking in the cold weather was ‘likely to result’ in a £200 fine.

Before the latest lockdown had officially become law, Thames Valley Police officers handed out leaflets to drivers in Maidenhead, asking ‘Why are you here?’

The force since apologised and said it was down to an ‘individual officer who was just a bit keen’.

Former police chiefs arguing there had been ‘damage done’ to public trust by Derbyshire Constabulary’s actions.

Ex-Durham Police chief constable Mike Barton told BBC Breakfast that ‘for the public to comply with the law, they have got to think and see the police are acting fairly’.

But despite this, Patel praised efforts by officers to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

The Home Secretary said: ‘Our police officers are working tirelessly to keep us safe. Not only are they continuing to take criminals off our streets, but they are also playing a crucial role in controlling the spread of the virus.

‘The vast majority of the public have supported this huge national effort and followed the rules.

‘But the tragic number of new cases and deaths this week shows there is still a need for strong enforcement where people are clearly breaking these rules to ensure we safeguard our country’s recovery from this deadly virus.

‘Enforcing these rules saves lives. It is as simple as that. Officers will continue to engage with the public across the country and will not hesitate to take action when necessary.’

Her comments follow a report in the Daily Telegraph suggesting ministers are considering a ‘tough crackdown’ to pressure more Britons to stay at home following record daily coronavirus death figures.

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