Two women who drove several miles to go for a walk during lockdown have had their £200 fines overturned by Derbyshire Police, who have also issued an apology to them.
Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore were fined for allegedly breaching the new lockdown rules, by driving five miles from their Leicestershire homes to Foremark Reservoir in South Derbyshire to exercise together on 6 January. The two walkers, who felt they hadn't broken any rules, said they were left "intimidated" after being "surrounded" by officers and also told that the hot drinks they brought with them were "classed as a picnic".
Derbyshire Constabulary initially defended the actions of its officers and said driving to exercise was "not in the spirit" of lockdown. But after it sparked a public outcry, the force subsequently launched a review of fixed penalty notices it issued, after receiving guidance from the National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) which confirmed that the law doesn't restrict the distance travelled for exercise.
On Monday evening (11 January), Chief Constable Rachel Swann said although she supports her officers trying to encourage people to stay local, she said it was right to carry out the review whilst confirming that the women's fines had been dropped.
The Chief Constable said: "I can confirm that a review into fixed penalty notices (FPNs) issued by my officers last week has been completed. Two fixed penalty notices that were handed to two women who had travelled to Foremark Reservoir on Thursday have been withdrawn and we have notified the women directly, apologising for any concern caused.
"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 FPNs 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."
Chief Constable Rachel Swann. Image: Derbyshire Constabulary.
'We all have a responsibility to follow the regulations and guidance'
CC Swann also said the force is working to understand the "ever-changing guidance and legislation" and communicate it to officers in a way that "makes it clear what is the right course of action to take".
She added: "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.”
'I am pleased an apology has been made at the earliest opportunity'
Derbyshire Police and Crime Commissioner Hardyal Dhindsa said he welcomed the decision to reverse the women's fines, but also reiterated it's important that people "enter the spirit of lockdown and recognise the full seriousness of this emergency".
He said: “I welcome the Force’s readiness to review these Fixed Penalty Notices and to subsequently rescind them. While the police are doing their absolute best to protect public safety during what is a critical time of the pandemic, the public should rightly expect a proportionate and balanced approach, taking full consideration of individual circumstances.
"We recognise that errors will occur in the face of complex guidance and legislation and it is important such situations are resolved quickly and fairly, as has been the case here. There is certainly a need for clearer direction on how the new regulations should be applied in the real world."
He added: "I am pleased an apology has been made at the earliest opportunity and I am sure the Force will learn lessons from this incident. However, it is vital people not only abide by the law, but they also enter into the spirit of lockdown and recognise the full seriousness of this emergency.
"This means minimising travel and only leaving the home for essential purposes to protect lives and NHS services and where people wilfully break the regulations, then they should expect a Fixed Penalty Notice."
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