Friday, January 08, 2021

Lockdown policing gone wild

Sometimes - actually quite often - you read things that make you very grateful that you live where you do, and not somewhere else. I'm not referring to the embarrassing goings-on in the USA, although that definitely falls into that category. What made me stop and think this particular morning occurred in my birth county of Derbyshire, England.

Two young women had driven about 5 miles from their home to go for a walk at the usually quiet and peaceful Foremark Reservoir. There, they encountered several police cars and "loads" of police officers. The two women assumed that there had been a crime in the area, maybe even a murder. They were even more surprised, then, when police officers headed straight for them and handed them a £200 fine each. 

It turns out that the police officers were very liberally interpreting the local lockdown laws, which forbid citizens from travelling out of their "local area" for exercise. "Local area", though, is not actually defined anywhere in law, and various government departments failed to give the BBC a straight answer on how it should be interpreted. 

Derbyshire Police defended the officers' actions, arguing that it is up to individual officers on a case by case basis. In this case, they had argued that driving somewhere for a walk was "not in the spirit " of the lockdown, and that carrying two cups of takeaway Starbucks coffee could be "classed as a picnic", which is also disallowed under lockdown rules.

Well, yes, but you have to be sensible about it. The two friends had arrived in separate cars from their respective homes and and were maintaining their distance from each other. What they were doing seems entirely within the spirit if the law. In fact, there is no law as such against driving somewhere for exercise, and lawyers agree that police have no power to enforce what are just government guidance and recommendations. Surely, a simple warning should have sufficed if they really thought that the women's behaviour was out of line.

Basically, the police officers were just making a bad pandemic unnecessarily worse for two unsuspecting individuals.

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