A couple of friends who had been fined by police for meeting for what they thought was a socially-distanced walk five miles from their homes have had their £200 penalty charges rescinded.
Jessica Allen from Ashby, and her friend Eliza Moore were stopped by police as they drove into the entrance of Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire on Wednesday, January 6.
"We drove into the car park and there was a lot of police there - I actually thought something had happened or someone had been murdered,"
Derbyshire Police officers approached the pair who arrived in separate vehicles after parking and "asked if [they] were friends".
"I explained that we were friends and we were going on a socially-distanced walk but they said we shouldn't be there because we're not locals," Jessica said.
At this point, Jessica was "confused" as she has been to the reservoir previously to walk her dog.
Following a review into the fines issued by officers from Derbyshire Constabulary, Chief Constable Rachel Swann said:
“I support the fact that the officers were trying to encourage people to stay local to prevent the spread of the virus. This is a responsibility for all of us. All of our Fixed Penalty Notices issued in conjunction with the Covid guidance are subject to review. Having received clarification of the guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) on Friday, these FPNs as well as a small number of others issued, were reviewed in line with that latest advice, and so it is right that we have taken this action.
“We have been working hard to understand the ever-changing guidance and legislation and to communicate this to our officers in a way that makes it clear what is the right course of action to take. At present there is no clear limit as to how far people can travel to exercise, but Government guidance strongly requests people do not leave their local area. We all have a responsibility to follow both the regulations and the guidance put in place to protect the NHS and save lives, and I would expect my officers to continue to take the four Es approach; to engage, explain, encourage, and enforce, to help us to keep them and their communities safe.
“It is important to note that the force has received complaints from residents living in some scenic parts of Derbyshire asking that we carry out activity to stop others travelling to the area because it becomes more crowded for local people. Our activity is aimed to address these concerns and to remind people to stay local. We will continue to show a visible presence in these areas and encourage people to comply with the guidance.”
The women said they accepted the force's apology - adding that they are pleased to draw a line under the event
"This afternoon we both received a phone call from Derbyshire Police. "After reviewing our case, our fines have been rescinded and we have received an apology on behalf of the constabulary for the treatment we received. "We welcomed this apology and we are pleased to draw a line under this event."
Under the current national guidance, people are allowed to travel for exercise if it is within their local area.
She said that although her postcode is Leicestershire, Derby was as close to her as Leicester, so she considered the reservoir to be local.
"It had been a couple of weeks since I'd been and I said to my friend why don't we go to the reservoir instead of the town centre because we noticed it was getting quite busy," she said.
The pair didn't think they were doing anything wrong after deciding that the Foremark Reservoir would be a less-crowded and therefore safer option for a walk.
Jessica, who has had to temporarily close her business in the lockdown and lives on her own during the week, also said the reservoir was somewhere that helped ease her anxiety.
The friends went to a coffee drive-through on the way but were told that "picnics" were not allowed which caused further confusion as Jessica didn't think her peppermint tea counted as a picnic.
"I said that we were really sorry and we really thought we were doing the right thing. The next thing I know, we're being given a £200 fine," she said.
Last week, when the fines were initially issued, a Derbyshire Constabulary spokesperson said in a statement: "The current guidance states that while you are able to exercise you should do so locally – defined as being within your village, town or city area.
"We, of course, understand that there may be valid reasons for travelling outside of these areas for exercise, however, driving to a location – where exercise could easily have been taken closer to a person’s home – is clearly not in the spirit of the national effort to reduce our travel, reduce the possible spread of the disease and reduce the number of deaths.
"Each officer will use their professional judgement on a case-by-case basis, however, people should expect to be challenged and understand the clear reasons why they may be asked about their movements given the critical situation the NHS currently finds itself in."
Jessica said she didn't want to "get away with it" if rules had been broken but felt it was unfair because the rules were "so vague".
Since Wednesday, when police stopped the two friends, Jessica said she has been "left feeling fearful" and hasn't left the house.
"I was just so shocked, I felt like other people should know before it happens to them. There are a lot of people right now who are not working or have lost jobs who would struggle to pay that fine," she said.