You will be in trouble if you sit on a park bench, Priti Patel warns

Police will question people who are sat on park benches during the UK’s third Covid lockdown, the Home Secretary has warned.

Amid a crackdown on those flouting the new rules, Priti Patel said those who are outside without a reasonable excuse should expect to be moved on or fined.

Current rules state no one is allowed out of their homes except for essential reasons like going to work or exercising. It is permitted to meet with one other person outside but only to go for a walk, run or cycle together.

People have been warned about sitting on benches as this does not constitute exercise and may break the rules around socialising.

Asked whether officers would question anyone sitting in the park during the lockdown Ms Patel told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘Police have done that, let’s be very clear about this.

‘Throughout this coronavirus pandemic, during the last lockdown, the police have been asking individuals why are they out and about and should they be out and about, when the message right now is stay at home.’

She added: ‘We saw the number of cases of coronavirus yesterday – 62,000. Tragically over 1,000 people have died. That is one of the highest numbers since last April.

‘We are in the thick of this shocking virus at the same time when we are trying to roll out a vaccination programme so it is right that we have these stringent measures and personally I think everyone has been incredibly responsible.

‘Everyone has a responsibility to follow the rules and I think the British public will continue to do that.’

Amid fears that fewer people will obey the lockdown rules this time around, police and the Government have been noticeably stricter in their approach to enforcing the new restrictions.

Ms Patel said more than 800 fines had already been issued in the past two weeks for ‘egregious’ breaches of restrictions.

Officers have been told to issue fines more quickly to ‘anyone committing obvious, wilful and serious breaches’.

Fixed penalty notices of £200 will be issued for a first offence, with this doubling for further offences up to a maximum of £6,400.

The Met warned Londoners yesterday that they should expect to be questioned over why they are outside and fines will be issued to those found breaking the law.

A statement said: ‘In practice this will mean that all those attending parties, unlicensed music events or large illegal gatherings, can expect to be fined – not just the organisers of such events.

‘Similarly, those not wearing masks where they should be and without good reason can expect to be fined – not reasoned with.

‘Additionally, with fewer ‘reasonable excuses’ for people to be away from their home in the regulations, Londoners can expect officers to be more inquisitive as to why they see them out and about.’

Meanwhile, Thames Valley Police have had to apologise after some of its officers were ‘a bit keen’ and started issuing leaflets to passing divers asking them why they were out.

A police chief has warned forces across the country are becoming ‘stretched’ by the increasing demands of policing the lockdown.

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