Police in Derbyshire hand out over 700 Covid fines in a month
Derbyshire police have handed out more than 700 fines to Covid-19 rule-breakers in the past month.
Hardyal Dhindsa, Derbyshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner, shared the figures in a report to the county’s police and crime panel.
Mr Dhindsa said the force issued 176 Covid fines in the most recent week alone.
Social media feeds operated by the county’s police force appear to have shown an increase in fines being handed out to people breaching Covid guidance.
This includes a man who travelled 200 miles from Ipswich to go climbing at Stanage Edge in the Peak District; a Staffordshire resident who drove to Derby to buy a takeaway; multiple households sharing vehicles to travel to Derby from Leeds and Birmingham; and travel from Mansfield to Matlock Bath to get fish and chips.
Derbyshire police told the Local Democracy Reporting Service that it had stepped up its enforcement activity in recent months and warned that people gathering in groups, in breach of guidance, were putting the reopening of lockdown “in jeopardy”.
Mr Dhindsa also shared that there have been 388 confirmed cases of Covid-19 among police officers and staff since the start of the pandemic, with a quarter of those coming in the past month.
A total of seven per cent of the police force are currently off work either due to contracting Covid or being a contact of a positive case.
This is down from a huge 20 per cent in March last year – one in five staff – largely caused by shielding requirements for employees more at risk due to being clinically vulnerable.
The report reveals that since the start of the pandemic, the force has – up until March 2 – handed out 1,605 fines to people breaching Covid guidance in the county and city.
This was up from a total of 900 at the end of January and 300 in the first nine months of the pandemic.
For comparison, Nottinghamshire police had handed out more than 1,600 fines in the four months from October to mid-January alone, totalling nearly 2,000 by mid-February.
Talking on enforcement of Covid guidance, the report, which will be discussed by the police and crime panel on Thursday (March 18), says: “The Constabulary is proud to police by consent, and as such it is important that our officers attempt to use the first three Es of the 4Es process (Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce) before any enforcement is considered; this is in line with guidance from the National Police Chiefs Council to all forces.
“The Constabulary and our partners with an enforcement remit have shared a clear aim throughout the past twelve months to work with our communities, ensuring that they understand the regulations which are ultimately there to help protect them and their loved ones.
“Since March 9, 2020 and until March 2, 2021, approximately 1,605 fixed-penalty notices (176 in the past week) have been issued by the Constabulary, with five of these being at the highest level of £10,000 for the most egregious breaches of the legislation – e.g. illegal raves and house parties).”
The figure of five highest level breaches has remained the same since the last update on fines a month ago.
The report continued: “The constant changes to the Coronavirus legislation, and the significant disparities between this legislation and guidance, remain a continual challenge for my colleagues, the implications of the forthcoming changes that are expected as we exit lockdown remain to be understood.
“All fixed-penalty notices continue to be scrutinised in order to identify cases where they have been issued inappropriately, and in these instances, those affected have received written notification of the withdrawal; this system has been in place since the Constabulary started to issue fixed-penalty notices in March 2020.
“It is important to note, in the overwhelming majority of cases, incidents are being dealt with appropriately and officers are using their discretion, and professional judgement, in the correct way.”
A spokesperson for Derbyshire police said: “We have increased our enforcement activity in recent months, as have most forces. The number of FPNs issued in Derbyshire is lower than in other counties as we continue to try and engage with the public rather than give fines.
“As the weather warms it is only natural that people will want to spend more time outside. In Derbyshire, we are lucky to have some fantastic parks as well as many great places to visit and there is a clear temptation for people to gather in groups.
“However, while infection rates are moving in the right direction, we are in a critical position as we begin to move back to normal life. Each of the steps outlined by the Government are based on infection rates continuing to drop and should people gather in groups, which we have seen over recent weekends, then they are putting that reopening in jeopardy.
“We are all anxious to see friends and family after these long months in lockdown but we must all do our part to help ensure the safe easing of restrictions.”
In January, the force reviewed all of its fixed penalty notices issued for Covid breaches after a complaint from two women fined £200 each for meeting up at Foremark Reservoir, just five miles from their respective homes.
The force has been accused of a “heavy handed” approach to fines for Covid-19 breaches and faced criticism early on in the pandemic for its use of a drone compilation video highlighting walkers breaching lockdown in the Peak District.