Derbyshire Police 'a little over-zealous' in interpreting Covid guidance

Two best friends were shocked after being surrounded by police on what they thought was a legal, socially-distanced walk. Credit: BPM Media

Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa says that Derbyshire Police has been "a little over-zealous" in its interpretation of the coronavirus guidance for police forces.

It follows an incident where two best friends were surrounded by officers on what they thought was a legal, socially-distanced walk.

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. They were told the reservoir was not local to them, and the drinks they had bought were not allowed, as picnics are not allowed under lockdown rules.

They were fined £200.

Foremark Reservoir Credit: BPM Media

At the time, the police force 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."

Mr Dhindsa said: "While the police can enforce the regulations, guidance is just that which can make this a very challenging and complex situation to the police."

The Crime Commissioner acknowledged that this is an" operational issue", and says he has spoken to the Chief Constable who said that an urgent review is underway to establish the circumstances in which Fixed Penalty Notices were issued.

Derbyshire Police have since said they've received further guidance on travel and exercise from the National Police Chiefs' Council.

They will now be following the below guidance and all fines issued so far will be reviewed, and people concerned will be contacted.

“UK Government guidance strongly requests that people do not leave their local area. However, the Covid Regulations which officers enforce and which enables them to issue FPNs for breaches, do not restrict the distance travelled for exercise.

“Police officers will be inquisitive about why people are out of their homes and will explain the regulations and encourage people to comply. 

Where people are breaching the regulations and are away from home without a reasonable excuse, they may be issued with a FPN.  In situations where people are breaching the guidance not to travel out their local area but are not breaching regulations, officers will encourage people to follow the guidance.

“We all have a responsibility to follow both the regulations and the guidance in place to protect the NHS and save lives. As throughout the pandemic, we’ll engage proportionately, fairly, and using the well-established 4Es approach. We are confident that the majority of people will act responsibly,  respecting the rules and guidance, and playing their part to keep communities safe. Those who do not follow the regulations in place to limit the spread of the virus should expect to receive a fixed penalty notice.”

In March, at the start of the first lockdown, Derbyshire Police created quite a stir when they used a drone to point out the number of people still driving to the Peak District - despite government guidance to stay at home.