Of­fi­cers can use force if lock­down is de­fied

The Guardian - - Front Page - Vikram Dodd

A three-step govern­ment plan to keep peo­ple in their houses dur­ing the lock­down would al­low po­lice to ca­jole peo­ple to go home. If that does not work, they could is­sue fines. And if that fails, they will be al­lowed to use force, the Guardian has learned.

Po­lice will be au­tho­rised to use force to send peo­ple back home if they refuse to obey the coro­n­avirus lock­down, un­der the lat­est govern­ment plans.

Min­is­ters will is­sue fuller de­tails to­day of how po­lice will en­force the lock­down or­dered by the prime min­is­ter on Mon­day, which is aimed at stop­ping the spread of the virus by keep­ing peo­ple apart.

The Guardian has learned that un­der plans be­ing dis­cussed by min­is­ters and se­nior of­fi­cials, of­fi­cers would first en­cour­age and ca­jole peo­ple to go home if they sus­pect them of be­ing in breach of the ban. If that and the is­su­ing of a fine failed, rea­son­able force could be used as a last re­sort.

Ex­emp­tions are ex­pected to be built in for those flee­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, for re­li­gious min­is­ters tend­ing to their du­ties, sep­a­rated par­ents see­ing their chil­dren, the home­less and those com­ply­ing with bail con­di­tions.

Jus­ti­fi­ca­tions for be­ing out­side, al­ready an­nounced by Boris John­son, in­clude ex­er­cis­ing once a day, buy­ing essentials such as food and medicine, car­ing du­ties and go­ing to work if it is im­pos­si­ble to work from home. Gath­er­ings of more than two peo­ple are banned.

Fines un­der a fixed penalty no­tice will start at £30 and if paid will not lead to a crim­i­nal record. If some­one re­fuses to pay, they can be pros­e­cuted. De­lays in pay­ing and fur­ther breaches will lead to es­ca­lat­ing fines.

Un­der the plans, if an of­fi­cer on pa­trol sees some­one out of their home and be­lieve they are breach­ing the lock­down, they start a “four-step plan”, ac­cord­ing to mul­ti­ple sources.

The of­fi­cer will en­gage – that is, ask the per­son why they are out. Then they are to ex­plain why the ban is needed to stop the virus spread­ing and save lives. Then they will en­cour­age the per­son to re­turn home. This could in­clude sug­gest­ing the best route home.

Af­ter these steps, an of­fi­cer can is­sue a fine and if the per­son still re­fuses to comply, po­lice will be au­tho­rised to use “rea­son­able force” to take some­one home.

Dur­ing the first two days of lock­down, po­lice say few peo­ple have been out in de­fi­ance of the ban or gath­er­ing in groups of more than two. Those chal­lenged by of­fi­cers have com­plied.

Peo­ple will have 14 days to pay a fine. Chil­dren un­der 18 will be taken back home to their par­ents or guardians. It is not clear if adults will be ex­pected to pay fines for chil­dren they are re­spon­si­ble for.

Be­fore de­tails of the penal­ties emerged, a po­lice leader warned of a po­ten­tial shift in re­la­tions be­tween po­lice and com­mu­ni­ties. Stephen White, the act­ing po­lice and crime com­mis­sioner for Durham, said re­la­tions with com­mu­ni­ties could be strained, as polic­ing was based on con­sent and a pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence.

“We don’t want to have a so­ci­ety when you step out the door there is a cop say­ing: ‘Where are you go­ing?’”

White, a former leader of rankand-file of­fi­cers when he was chair of the Po­lice Fed­er­a­tion, and a former po­lice marks­man, said: “Are we go­ing to as­sume in­no­cence or guilt? … What are the grounds, rea­son­able be­lief or ev­i­dence to dish out a fine?

“What are the checks and bal­ances on po­lice of­fi­cers us­ing these draconian pow­ers go­ing to be?” he said. “It’s go­ing to be a mine­field.”

Po­lice will face po­ten­tial sen­si­tive sit­u­a­tions if the lock­down is still in place when the Mus­lim holy month of Ra­madan starts on about 23 April. Usu­ally wor­ship­pers visit mosques af­ter dark.

Refugees and asy­lum seek­ers flee­ing per­se­cu­tion also may be con­cerned about giv­ing an au­thor­ity fig­ure their name and ad­dress.

Andy Cooke, the chief con­sta­ble of Mersey­side po­lice, speak­ing be­fore de­tails of the plans emerged, said po­lice lead­ers were keen to see the de­tails of plans. He said any en­force­ment would be rare. “You rely on good­will but there might be a small bunch of id­iots who have to have en­force­ment used against them.”


A tube train packed with com­muters de­spite the lock­down an­nounced to try to curb the spread of the virus

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