Coronavirus: Police boss answers allegations of 'over-zealous' policing of social distancing rules

  • Video report by ITV News Political Correspondent Ben Chapman

One of Britain’s most senior police officers has urged the public not to judge officers too harshly in their policing of coronavirus lockdown measures amid growing criticism of the force’s responses.

At the same time, Metropolitan Police assistant commissioner Neil Basu says officers should strive to preserve the public’s confidence through persuasion and education, rather than automatic enforcement, after allegations of “over-zealous” policing of social distancing regulations.

Complaints have included that people have been fined £60 for going out to buy items deemed non-essential, or for going on a drive due to boredom.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Basu called for the public to show understanding toward police, and for officers to “police by consent” as they are compelled to use powers he “never imagined a British police officer would be asked to use”.

“Everyone in policing is acutely aware that how we police this pandemic will be remembered for many years to come,” Mr Basu wrote.

“Preserving the trust and confidence of the public by policing by consent is our mantra, and has been since 1829. There will be a period of readjustment to our new responsibilities, which no police officer ever thought they would have.”

Mr Basu urged officers to heed calls by two of Britain’s most senior officers, Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick and Martin Hewitt, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), that “persuasion and education to do the right thing is our primary goal”, rather than being too quick to impose punishments.

Meanwhile, the NPCC has denied a report in The Guardian saying it is drawing up new guidance for officers not to “over-reach” in their lockdown enforcements as a result of the complaints received.

“We are not rewriting our guidance to officers,” the NPCC tweeted. “It remains the same as it was. Engage, explain, encourage and finally enforce. This is a fast changing situation and we, along with the public, are adapting as we go forward.”

Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said police needed "clear" and "consistent" guidelines when it came to enforcing coronavirus lockdown rules.

She said: "What we need is clear rules which are applied in a way which is consistent and make sense.

"Some of the stories which we've heard in the past few days are very mixed messages.

"Is it really true that we can't buy Easter eggs for our children when our children are locked down with us for weeks on end? I think that is the other side of common sense."Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said: "I think the police are doing a very good job under difficult circumstances.

"Most people are compiling completely with this. I think we need to be careful not to use the odd exception which is drawn out to prove a rule. I think in general police are doing very well."I'm sure they will get their guidance across the board straightened out."

Coronavirus: Everything you need to know