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MPs urge police to reveal orders given to officers enforcing coronavirus social distancing rules

Some police forces have been accused of being heavy-handed with enforcement

3 min read

MPs and peers have urged police chiefs to spell out the orders given to officers tasked with overseeing the government's social distancing rules amid complaints of over-zealous enforcement.

A letter from Harriet Harman, who chairs Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights, calls for more information after some forces were accused of being inconsistent with their handling of lockdown rules.

Derbyshire Police have already come under fire after they filmed people parking their cars to go walking in the Peak District before sharing the footage on Twitter, while other forces have been accused of being "heavy handed" with their new powers.

The College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs Council have already reissued guidance to officers after some complained that differing messages from government had created "confusion" around enforcement.

It comes as the Joint Committee, comprised of members from the Commons and House of Lords, announced an inquiry into the impact on human rights of the new police powers.

In her letter to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, the senior Labour MP said it would be "helpful" if she could explain the instructions which had been given to officers tasked with controlling parks and other public areas.

"We all strongly support the public health measures that the government has put in place to protect the NHS and save lives and I'm grateful to all your officers for the part they are playing in encouraging everyone to adhere to the guidance about staying home except for limited outside exercise," she wrote.

"Obviously the police have a role to play in such unprecedented circumstances which goes wider than enforcing the criminal law. We have seen police tape preventing the use of park benches and police using surveillance to identify people who are breaching the guidance not to drive to beauty spots.

She added: "I think it would be helpful if you could be clear about the instructions which have been issued to your officers about their role in parks and public spaces during this crisis."

But speaking on Tuesday, Dame Cressida said her officers would be willing to use force to move people who refuse to comply with the social distancing rules, as she insisted enforcement would be used as an "absolute last resort".

"It's extremely important that we all do try to comply with [the restrictions] and we in the police of course have our part to play," the Met chief said.

"If we have to we will be very firm in that, if somebody completely refuses - but this is an absolute last resort - it will result in enforcement."

She added: "I think the vast majority of the public expect us to do that but the tradition of the Met is always to start by advising people."

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