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Police battle plan to enforce government lockdown in Islington revealed

Borough's police chief said he would rather not dole out fines and arrest people

25 March, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

ISLINGTON’S most senior police officer has urged residents to obey the coronavirus lockdown or risk being fined or arrested, as he outlined his battleplan to uphold the government’s new measures.

Chief Superintendent Raj Kohli said new legislation will give police forces across the country the power to issue fixed penalty notices or arrest anyone who refuses to heed the Government’s latest rules.

However, he said he would prefer people understood the controls than officers have to dole out fines and make arrests.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a pre-recorded address to the nation on Monday night in which he enacted a raft of restrictions effectively banning people from leaving the house.

It means residents cannot leave their homes except to shop for basic necessities, to exercise once a day, to travel to and from work where absolutely necessary and to take care of a medical need or care and help a vulnerable person.

Already since the announcement, people across the UK have been spotted flaunting the rules. 

Large numbers of people flocked to Highbury Fields this week prompting the borough council to warn they could shut the parks if people continue ignoring the advice. 

Officers at the moment have powers to disperse groups of two or more people and currently they are mainly moving people on and advising them of the necessity of social distancing.

Chief Supt Kohli said: “We’re not going to enforce things until society understands what is essential and what’s not, we’ll at first be telling people to go home.

“If they say they disagree and they refuse then in those circumstances we can give a fixed penalty notice, we can fine you. And in the very extreme circumstances, you can be arrested.

“We will have failed if we have to fine or arrest people. I rather people understand what they should do and listen to the police, politicians and journalists that are telling them.”

Mr Johnson told the nation police forces would be the body enforcing the sanctions but, when asked by the Tribune Chief Supt said his team were up to the task.

“What I can say is, we are preparing for every eventuality. 

“There is a potential for you to see slightly less police officers on the street because we’re human too and we can catch the virus but there are plans in place to make sure we are covered.”

Plans include paring back some aspects of policing and focusing attention on emergency response and arrests, the police chief told the Tribune.

Asked whether he was concerned about a possible surge in theft and burglary in the business premises left empty during the lockdown, he said: “Is there a potential for shops and pubs to be broken into? Of course there is. But, if owners of these premises follow crime prevention advice then it should be fine. 

“Also, with less people on the street our police officers day to day work is less and thieves and other criminals are more visible. So, if anyone is thinking of taking advantage of the situation then I’d say don’t be stupid and we will catch you if you do.”

Police forces could be stretched even further in the coming weeks as officers fall ill or have to self-isolate.

Chief Supt Kohli said: “If people behave themselves – like they don’t all pile into a pub on Friday night like they did when it was announced pubs and restaurants were closing – and if we can trust people to self-police then police officers shouldn’t have to worry because the virus will slow right down.

“But, because of the immaturity and bloody-mindedness of some people, it’s going to affect police officers and lord knows the impact it will have on NHS staff.

“It doesn’t matter what party you voted for, the Prime Minister was very clear in what he expects of the public and what he expects of me.

“He’s now trusting the British public to do the right thing and has explained there will be repercussions for a small minority if they don’t work together with everyone else. These people who aren’t listening to the advice, or are deliberately going against it, are spreading the most infection.

“There are less diplomatic words to describe those people but at best, I’d call them naive.”

The powers have been brought in to protect public health under emergency legislation.

The 329-page Coronavirus Bill was rushed through the House of Commons on Monday and reached the committee stage in the House of Lords by Wednesday and could soon be enshrined in law.

It is believed fines will start at £30 but the government warned the amount could be “’ramped up” if people do not stick to the rules.

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