'This is a travesty': Police slammed for repeatedly getting coronavirus lockdown law wrong

Will Taylor
·News Reporter
·3-min read
Police offices one female and one male and Police car at the scene of a possible crime with cordon tape around at the side of road
Police offices one female and one male and Police car at the scene of a possible crime with cordon tape around at the side of road

Police forces have been accused of mixing coronavirus law with guidance as officers attempt to clamp down on rule-breakers.

Prominent human rights barrister Adam Wagner said there were "no excuses" for Merseyside Police, after the force claimed that leaving your local area is illegal under coronavirus law.

He also criticised a policing team in North Yorkshire after it issued a similar statement.

Staying in your local area is recommended under government guidance but is not included in legislation, meaning police cannot enforce the policy.

Merseyside Police had to apologise and revoke a fine given to a woman who went five miles from her Walton home to the beach with her daughter in January.

Wagner said that guidance is often stricter than the law itself, and therefore "confuses, not clarifies" legislation.

He criticised Merseyside Police's tweets on the subject, one of of which said its "officers have to enforce the law and it states that you must avoid travelling outside of your village, town or the part of a city where you live".

He said: "Honestly, after almost a year this is a travesty. No excuses.

"Can I suggest you urgently review all of your fixed penalty notices if you have been enforcing guidance?"

Later, a Twitter user said she was also told that government guidance says you should not travel outside of your area.

That post acknowledged this was not law, but said the guidance "provides parameters by which police and magistrates can apply the law".

"This is really pernicious," Wagner said.

"I can see how police have got there – by assuming that the guidance is an insight into what the legislation means. But it isn't.

"The COVID guidance has consistently gone further than the legislation. A legal limit on exercise distance could have been included in the regulations as it was in Wales, but it wasn't.

"The guidance confuses, not clarifies, the law.

"The police would be far safer to ignore it, not least because it is a huge waste of their resources attempting to stope people driving a few miles for exercise which really poses no or almost no public health threat whatsoever."

In January, Derbyshire Police said it would review its coronavirus fines after officers descended on two women who met up to walk at a reservoir.

Earlier in the newest lockdown, police insisted they would move to enforcing regulations much more quickly, and the Met said it would no longer try to reason with people deliberately breaking rules around face coverings.

However, officers themselves have fallen foul of the rules, with some being fined for getting haircuts and others issued fixed penalty notices after being pictured in a cafe.

North Yorkshire Police was approached for comment.

Watch: What you can and can't do in lockdown