Priti Patel backs tougher police enforcement after thousands of rule breaches

Home secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus (COVID-

Home secretary Priti Patel during a media briefing in Downing Street, London, on coronavirus. - Credit: Pippa Fowles/10 Downing Street/Crown Copyright/PA Wire

The Home Secretary has backed tougher enforcement of coronavirus restrictions from police after tens of thousands of fines were handed out to those breaking the rules.

Priti Patel said "a minority of people are putting the public's health at risk", and that people must work together in a "national effort" to beat the virus.

She was speaking at a Downing Street briefing on Tuesday evening, after concerns were raised from many quarters over the apparent ambiguity of the lockdown rules.

Official guidance on the Government's website says people should limit exercise to once per day, and says people "should not travel outside your local area".

But despite Mrs Patel's insistence that "the rules are actually very simple and clear", this wording has come in for criticism, with many saying that a "local area" is open to interpretation.

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Neil Haughey, from Norwich, said: "It says on the government website that you are allowed to travel to the beach or countryside as long as it's local, but doesn’t detail what is deemed local. Five, 10, 15 miles?

"Is it any wonder that people interpret it how they wish?"

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Prime Minister Boris Johnson was criticised after he was spotted cycling seven miles from Downing Street on Sunday afternoon, but No.10 insisted that this was not a breach of the current restrictions.

A spokesperson for Norfolk Police said keeping local "means staying in your village, town or city", but reiterated that "there is no set distance in terms of travel".

They did not say whether police were actively targeting popular spots within the county, but said they were focussing on "the most serious breaches".

The spokesperson said: "Naturally, our resources will be targeted towards the most serious breaches, for example people who travel long distances to go for a walk. Examples from this weekend include driving from Norwich to Wells for a walk."

In total, 31 fines were dished out by Norfolk Constabulary over the weekend, while a further 96 warnings were issued.

Among those fined were six men in the Great Yarmouth area who had met on a recreation ground to play football together, while another man was fined for having five friends in his car – all from separate households.

The Home Secretary said on Tuesday that more than 45,000 fixed penalty notices had been issued across the UK.

Martin Hewitt, chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council, said more officers would be patrolling the streets across the country to "encourage compliance", and added that he "made no apology" for the thousands of fines handed out.

He said: "A stubborn number of people have refused to abide by the regulations, and we have had to use enforcement powers."

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