Police issue no fines despite visitors swarming to Peak District hotspots

Derbyshire police did not hand out any fines linked to Covid-19 breaches during a weekend in which scores of people were seen gathering at the county's beauty spots.

Photos of people flocking to Derbyshire hotspots such as Matlock Bath and Dovedale were shared on social media.

In response, one Derbyshire leader said that “common sense” is not working and Covid-19 is being treated like “a joke”.

Images shared online showed hundreds of motorbike riders gathered in Matlock Bath and dozens of cars and walkers in Dovedale at the well-known stepping stones.

Testimony from residents claimed these areas were as busy as they would be on a bank holiday in more “normal” times – despite a raft of Covid-19 restrictions such as social distancing remaining in place while other rules have recently been eased.

Concerned residents branded many of the visitors swarming to these hotspots “irresponsible idiots”, who were “putting others in danger” and that a “misguided dependence on people using common sense” caused the issue.

Derbyshire’s leaders have also voiced their concerns over the events witnessed at the weekend.

Hardyal Dhindsa, Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, said a third of all of the force’s Covid-19 related call-outs at the weekend related to beauty spots in the Dales and High Peak.

He told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “Unfortunately common sense doesn’t seem to be working here in terms of social distancing to avoid spreading the coronavirus.

“The potential for the police to take action is limited now with the relaxation of lockdown.

“The police do not have powers to take enforcement action when people are not being socially distant – not keeping apart two metres.”

Police in England have no powers to enforce two-metre distancing, but Welsh police retain this ability.

English police can prevent gatherings of three or more people from different households; prevent holiday trips or travel to stay overnight in a second home; visits to the homes of friends or family (unless you are taking them vital medical supplies or to escape risk of harm); and travel to outdoor spaces in Wales and Scotland for recreational purposes.

Fines of £100 can be issued for first offence breaches of these laws, increasing to a maximum sum of £3,200 for repeat offenders.

Mr Dhindsa said: “What we can do and are doing is engaging, explaining and encouraging people to follow the rules and regulations and they will enforce the limited powers they have.

“People in built-up areas are cooped up and want to get out and get fresh air and it is reasonable to do that  and I am also fully conscious of my rural constituents who are worked hard to protect themselves and remain isolated feeling worried about large numbers of people come to the beautiful parts of Derbyshire – the Dales and the High Peak.

“They are concerned that if large numbers of people congregate there is more of a danger and risk of spreading coronavirus.

“The police and myself have got a hard job making sure we understand the needs of one group but also the concerns of the other and we will do whatever we can professionally to tackle that.

“Most people are trying to be sensible but it puts everyone at risk – including police officers – when there are large numbers of people gathering.

“I would put a call out to say to people that they think before going out. I accept that they need to be out in the fresh air for mental well-being but think about others, think about yourself, protect yourself and protect others.

“It’s certainly difficult in places like Matlock Bath where ordinarily you would encourage visitors to visit.

“I would say to visitors to think first because we are not in normal circumstances, the threat of Covid-19 and the spread of the virus is still there, so only go if it’s essential, don’t travel too far from your local places and if you are going somewhere think about if there could be too many people there, avoid large crowds and think about the residents who are living there.”

A Peak District National Park Authority spokesperson said: “The National Park has been regularly sharing information across social media and high profile news outlets making it clear that should visitors choose to travel, there are very limited facilities, including no public toilets.

“These messages continued throughout the weekend.

“Whilst we have asked the public to consider outdoor spaces closer to home for exercise in the first instance, high volumes of traffic were reported from some of the Peak District’s more well-known locations during Saturday and Sunday.

“West Yorkshire fire service reported that parking away from designated zones created access challenges in one area. Fortunately, this did not involve an emergency call out.”

Cllr Barry Lewis, leader of Derbyshire County Council, said on Saturday: “I popped into Matlock to get mower fuel and judging by the sheer volume of traffic, the bunches of cyclists, social distancing not being practised in the petrol station shop, or in the countryside, people must think that Covid-19 is a joke.

“The stay alert and stay local message is not being adhered to.”

Derbyshire Dales District Council said on Twitter at the weekend: “We appealed to visitors to stay away but our usual hotspots are busy. We also made it clear most facilities – including toilets – remain closed.

“Sadly we’re getting reports of people using streets as a toilet. Don’t.”

It could not comment further on the events seen at the weekend when it was asked today why toilets remained closed.

A Derbyshire police spokesperson said: “There have been no fines handed out this weekend.

“Social distancing is a guideline that is not enforceable under law. As has been the case throughout the COVID-19 national emergency our officers have been engaging, explaining and encouraging people to follow the guidance to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Only as a last resort – for persistent or serious breaches of the areas covered by law – are fines used.

“The force’s roads policing unit was active across the county speaking to many drivers and motorcyclists – engaging and explaining the guidance, checking vehicles for defects and enforcing speed limits on roads that have seen serious collisions and fatalities.

“The latest relaxation of the guidelines relies on people using their good judgement to ensure they are keeping themselves and others safe.

“It has been the clear guidance to officers to use enforcement as a last resort – we would seek to engage, explain and encourage, which most people understand and are abiding by the guidelines and legislation.”

Image of Langsett. Credit: Peak District National Park. 

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