Changes needed to ‘incredibly vague’ local exercise rules, says Leicestershire Police leader

Police leaders have called for the clarification of “woolly” coronavirus lockdown rules on the distance people are allowed to travel for exercise.

Government guidance currently instructs the public to only exercise in their local area but there is no distance set by law.

Confusion over the issue was highlighted last week by the case of Jessica Allen, from Ashby, who was fined £200 by police for taking a socially-distanced walk with friend Eliza Moore at Foremark Reservoir, five miles away, on January 6.

The fines issued to the two women by the Derbyshire force have since been rescinded, however, the confusion has continued with criticism of Prime Minister Boris Johnson for going on a bike ride seven miles from Downing Street.

Adam Commons, chairman of Leicestershire Police Federation, said that officers across the 43 forces in England and Wales are trying to interpret something “incredibly vague”.

“We can’t have 43 police forces interpreting it a different way,” he told PA News. “You will gradually see a trickle of people in the media who will say ‘hang on a minute, in Northamptonshire they do this but in Manchester they do this’.

“We’ve got some of the MPs coming out today saying ‘it makes sense to us’, well for enforcement purposes it doesn’t make sense to us.

“That’s the problem. We are the people who are out there trying to deal with it and we can’t in its current format.”

Jessica Allen and her best friend Eliza Moore thought they were ‘doing the right thing’ on their socially distanced walk.

Mr Commons added: “This just puts the pressure back on my colleagues who then get the criticism in the media for enforcing it and then if it’s wrong or interpreted differently it is used as a stick to beat them with.

“They’re just trying to interpret something that’s incredibly vague and needs amending.”

Chairman of the West Yorkshire Police Federation, Brian Booth said the rules were “impossible” to interpret and resulted in a moral judgement being made in many instances.

“The guidance is that you should be local in your own community near where you live but people are far exceeding that,” he said.

“Officers have no power in law to deal with it, so it is a bit of a nonsense really.

“The guidance is people’s moral judgement, should they be doing it, but with regard to policing it – it’s impossible.”

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Asked whether the Government should bring in a legal definition of what constitutes ‘local’, Mr Booth said: “If you want a more hard line enforcement approach that is what you’ve got to do.

“You can’t just leave it woolly like you’ve done and expect officers to work miracles. It’s just setting the officer up for a fall.”

He added: “If you say to people you are going to limit their civil liberties, and you are going to place them in lockdown, state it very clearly. Because it’s not fair on the public either.

“Don’t expect officers to work a miracle and pull law out of their back pocket. We’ve got to have a sound foundation of law to apply properly. If not, the public starts to mistrust us.”

The National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) has said that while the location of exercise is guidance and not law, officers will be “inquisitive” about why members of the public are not at home.

A spokeswoman said: “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 fixed penalty notice.

“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.”

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