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Police: Forget the virus law loopholes and do the right thing

Top cop says most are following rules to stop spread – while some are looking for loopholes

14 January, 2021 — By Bronwen Weatherby

Chief Superintendent Raj Kohli

CAMDEN’S most senior police officer says people should stop thinking what the laws are on Covid and “just do the right thing” to stop the spread of the virus.

Borough commander Chief Superintendent Raj Kohli was speaking as officers stepped up their enforcement of the lockdown rules.

“The bulk of people are trying their best, but some people are misinterpreting the legislation and some people know what they’re doing and are even purposely trying to find loopholes,” he told the New Journal.

“I’d say forget the law. It’s not about following the law, the law is irrelevant, it’s about being a human being and just doing the right thing.”

He added: “As many as 70 to 80 per cent of people say they want tougher enforcement on those breaking the laws, but often do not want that enforcement on themselves. We’d much rather be out there tackling knife crime, drug dealing, domestic abuse and burglaries, but because people continue not to listen and put the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in jeopardy, our focus is taken away from that.”

While Chief Supt Kohli said it was clear what the public should do, confusion reigned over some aspects, such as whether a single person can sit and drink a cup of coffee on a bench.

Downing Street was forced on Monday to issue a clarification saying that while a “short pause during the course of exercise would be reasonable”, it would be “unlawful to leave the house just to sit in public”.

Police Chief Inspector Peter Dearden, who leads the coronavirus response in Camden and Islington, said he supported officers who are approaching and questioning people sitting down outside in Camden.

He said: “Lockdown should mean lockdown and so people should only be out for essential reasons, otherwise they should be at home. If people just acted as though they might have the virus then we would be out of this mess sooner rather than later.”

Chief Inspector Dearden added: “We get vilified for asking people to move on from sitting down outside but not acting on breaches, I feel, would not only erode confidence in the police but also lead to the virus spreading and people dying. So in a way we’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t. I just want to reassure people that we will always act in a proportionate way.

“But over 80,000 people have died now – this level of enforcement is clearly necessary.”

The Central North borough command unit is not immune to the coronavirus, with currently between 10 and 12 per cent of its officers off from work due to sickness or self-isolation related to Covid-19 – around four times what might be expected in normal times.

Patrols enforce lockdown rules

THE New Journal watched a police patrol in Camden Town on Saturday, as officers stepped up enforcement of the lockdown. At Camden Lock, there were groups of teenagers breaking the “stay at home” order and rules preventing households mixing.

After speaking to three young people out together without a reason, police Sergeant Alvaro Aracena-Fuentes said: “I understand why teenagers would want to be out, but this is how the virus spreads and it’s sending a bad impression to other people who will see them and think they can do that too.”

In Castlehaven park, two women from a local university had travelled there on rented bikes to eat takeaway food from Camden Market.

Officers on the towpath on Saturday

The rules say you can exercise with one other person, but not meet for lunch. This would turn out to be the recurring theme of the day – the canal towpath was lined with people sat eating, drinking, and chatting, from families having picnics to people sat on their own listening to music. Each was approached one by one by police with Sgt Aracena-Fuentes asking them to move on.

He said: “We’ve been out for 15 minutes, imagine how tiring it’ll be after eight or nine hours doing this. It’s hard for all of us to see people disregarding the rules like that. I have friends who work in the NHS, I have colleagues that are really ill with the virus.

“Whether people like it or not, we are just here to do our job, and we are doing it for a reason.”

Three fines were handed out by officers

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