Leicester lockdown: Police considering ‘all options’ to enforce new coronavirus restrictions

Government says it will not be making non-essential travel illegal as residents urged to follow guidance

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Wednesday 01 July 2020 18:30
Leicester travel ban could be imposed if people try to leave city, Matt Hancock warns

The head of Leicester’s police force has said officers are considering “all options” to enforce the UK’s first local coronavirus lockdown.

Asked whether roadblocks would be imposed to prevent people from leaving the city, chief constable Simon Cole said: “We’re thinking about all of our options but we hope that common sense will prevail. Most people have complied here through the previous iterations of the lockdown.”

Mr Cole said police would be patrolling and “speaking to people who feel they need to get out and about”.

He added: “If you need to travel for medicine or food, do it. But otherwise, let’s stay at home and watch Leicester City on the telly.”

Current police guidance calls roadblocks “disproportionate” and tells officers to fine and arrest people for lockdown breaches only as a last resort.

Ministers have not yet announced details of legal changes to enable enhanced restrictions in Leicester, and updated guidance for police has not been finalised.

Officials are urging residents to stay at home and travel for essential purposes only, but there are concerns that people will leave for nearby towns when pubs, restaurants and other businesses reopen on Saturday.

”People need to decide about personal risk,” Mr Cole said. “You might really want a pint this Saturday — I’d really like a pint this Saturday.

“I won’t be having one, and I won’t be having one in a pub because I don’t want to risk my health or the health of my mates, or the health of my family.”

The senior officer said Leicestershire Police had been in touch with neighbouring forces about changes, which are currently expected to last for two weeks.

Chief constable Craig Guilford, of neighbouring Nottinghamshire Police, said the force would act on large groups travelling from Leicester.

“If we get any intelligence from Leicester such as a minibus or coach travelling to Nottingham then we will act accordingly,” he added. ”British Transport Police will be doing the same.”

An NHS public safety message in Leicester after the health cecretary Matt Hancock imposed a local lockdown following a spike in coronavirus cases in the city

The boundaries of the affected area, which includes suburbs outside of Leicester, have been controversial but Mr Cole said sticking to the official city limits “didn’t make any sense at all”.

“I have huge sympathy with those who find themselves just one side of the road than the other but you’ve got to draw the line somewhere,” he added.

“We’ve had twice as many cases in the last week here in Leicester than the whole of London … the sooner we can get rid of it, the sooner we can get back to normal.“

More than 3,200 Covid-19 cases have been confirmed in Leicester since the start of the epidemic, including 944 cases reported in the last two weeks.

The health secretary announced enhanced restrictions in the Midlands city on Monday night following talks with local officials, but discussions on how to implement them continue.

Matt Hancock said that ”in some cases“ the lockdown would be enforced by the police, while non-essential shops will not be allowed to open.

“We’ll be making the legal change so non-essential retail is no longer open,” he told Sky News on Tuesday.

“We are recommending against travel unless it’s essential, but we are not putting that into law at this stage. We will if we have to.”

On Wednesday, the prime minister’s official spokesman confirmed that the government was not planning to make non-essential travel illegal to prevent people entering or leaving Leicester “at this stage”.

Matt Hancock announces lockdown to be extended in Leicester

The Leicestershire Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said officers needed clarity on what their role would be as soon as possible.

“We still wait for confirmation on what our colleagues’ exact roles will be in policing, and potentially enforcing, this ‘Leicester lockdown’, and what legislation our members will be asked to use,” said chair Dave Stokes.

Leicestershire Police said it would respond to any changes to the Health Protection Regulations, which enforce the lockdown, and guidelines for officers.

“This is a dynamic situation and we will adjust accordingly providing proportionate policing under the relevant legislation to help keep people safe,” a spokesperson said.

“We continue to encourage communities to follow the government’s guidelines.”

Speaking to The Independent ahead of the announcement on Leicester, a senior police officer said that “local lockdowns” would cause difficulties.

The president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, said the potential for confusion had already been demonstrated by the difference between lockdown laws in England, Wales and Scotland.

“Public behaviour could work around those challenges,” he added. “Moving around for a night out could very well happen.”

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