The Home Affairs Committee of the House of Commons has said the police must stop overstepping their powers under new coronavirus laws in order to maintain public trust. MPs have identified errors “through social media and press reporting”, and called for forces to “ensure that there are proper checks in place”. It adds:
It is vital that all forces and all officers understand the distinction between Government advice and legal requirement, and that the tone and tactics they use are appropriate to each. Failing to do so depletes public trust.
The Committee’s report, “Home Office preparedness for Covid-19 (Coronavirus): Policing”, is available here. The oral evidence to the Committee is available here.
There has been widespread condemnation that at a time when police are rigorously and often arbitrarily enforcing physical distancing and lockdown movement rules in parks and beauty spots around the country, the same rules did not apply when a crowd of police and members of the public were allowed to gather on Westminster Bridge for the ‘Clap For Carers’ initiative at 8pm yesterday evening.
As one Netpol member group, Activist Court Aid Brigade pointed out, it was difficult to argue that this police behaviour was the result of a lack of supervision when Metropolitan Police Commissioner Cressida Dick was present in person.
There were similar scenes in South Yorkshire and in Fife of police officers ignoring physical distancing to take part in organised clapping.
Meanwhile, on Twitter, one user complained that her son was told “to go home by a PCSO whilst he was on his BMX, as she decided it didn’t count as exercise as “he wasn’t sweating”. He’d just finished an 8-hour shift as an essential worker too”.
In Scotland, a disabled woman, who lives in a sheltered housing complex in Edinburgh, was left in tears and feeling worried after police warned she may be fined for having too many visitors.
In West Yorkshire, there has been a surge in “neighbours snitching on lockdown flouters”. Writing for Vice, Ruby Lott-Lavigna says we are living through the “Golden Age of Snitching”. as the British public are encouraged to report on their neighbours.
The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prison Reform Trust have written to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, setting out a proposed judicial review of his plans for reducing the prison population, warning of a “public health catastrophe” if the release of prisoners is not accelerated. The Prison Reform Trust claims only 18 prisoners have so far been released from jails in England and Wales.
As of 5pm yesterday, the number of infected prisoners stood at 255 across 62 prisons, an increase of 10%in 24 hours. There were also 138 prison staff tested positive for the coronavirus across 49 prisons, a 43% increase over the same period.
There has been considerable coverage in the local press over the last 24 hours (see this example) of Google’s latest Covid-19 Community Mobility Report (PDF, dated 11 April), which shows changes in movement in terms of transport, public spaces (such as parks and beaches) and shops. It gives an indication of how well the public is sticking to coronavirus lockdown measures.