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Cambridgeshire Constabulary moves to quell concerns over its policing of lockdown after concerns from NHS staff and shoppers

Cambridgeshire Constabulary has moved to clarify how it is policing the lockdown after concerns were raised by NHS staff and shoppers.

Chief Constable Nick Dean responded after reports that NHS staff heading to work at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge had been told their ID was not proof of their reason for being out during the coronavirus crisis.

Chief Constable Nick Dean. Picture: Cambridgeshire police
Chief Constable Nick Dean. Picture: Cambridgeshire police

He confirmed that ID cards were “sufficient to show who they are and why are travelling” and the force was fully supportive of the NHS.

He also moved to clarify that police would never scrutinise what people were buying at the supermarkets after a tweet posted to the @CambCops twitter account by an office attending Tesco in Bar Hill remarked positively on the “non essential aisles” being free of shoppers.

Both incidents had prompted a backlash on social media.

Phil Rodgers, from Cambridge, commented: “It's certainly a stressful time and I have a lot of respect for the work @CambsCops do. But I really think their leadership needs to get a grip and sort out nonsense like this quickly. Public goodwill is a vital resource in fighting the virus and this sort of thing burns it up.”

Julian Huppert, the former Liberal Democrat MP from Cambridge, said the incident involving Addenbrooke’s staff was “absurd”.

A Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust newsletter noted that staff had been stopped on their way to work and told their NHS ID was “insufficient evidence of essential travel” during the period of lockdown.

The newsletter said the trust had raised this with the force, which had confirmed it would remind officers an explanation combined with NHS ID was indeed suitable.

Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell
Addenbrooke’s Hospital. Picture: Keith Heppell

Aiming to draw a line under the episode, the chief constable said: “There are reports circulating on social media that officers are stopping NHS staff on their way to or from work at Addenbrooke’s Hospital. This morning we have spoken to Addenbrooke’s and have confirmed these reports date back to early April or even prior to that.

“It is inevitable that officers going about their daily business will stop and speak to our colleagues across the health service; we as Cambridgeshire Constabulary have had nothing but support from right across the health sector, as every police service has experienced, right across the country.

“We have shown our support at events such as the Clap for Carers and only last week we again showed our utmost admiration for those tackling coronavirus at the front line. We are all united in our support to stop the spread of the virus and to save lives.

“NHS staff carry ID cards and that is more than sufficient to show who they are and why they are travelling – we are very clear that we support our NHS. This Easter weekend is about us all working together at this critical time and not being diverted by stories which lose sight of the devastating effects this virus causes; it affects everyone and we, like every other police service, are determined to support the fight against this virus.

“We have reminded our officers of the guidelines, as we have done continually throughout this evolving situation, and I ask that you help us in saving lives and supporting our fantastic NHS by staying at home.”

The tweet - since deleted - on @CambsCops said: “Officers visited Tesco Barhill this morning as part of their patrols around supermarkets and green spaces this weekend. Good to see everyone was abiding by social distancing measures and the non essential aisles were empty.”

After a backlash on social media on why officers appeared to be examining what people were buying, Mr Dean responded: “The policing style of Cambridgeshire Constabulary has been very clear throughout this current situation and has always been in alignment with national guidance.

“Officers and staff have been actively engaging with communities and receiving, quite rightly, really supportive comments. Where necessary they have given guidance and encouraged people to comply with the new legislation and on the vast majority of occasions people have adhered to the social distancing and stay at home message, which is a testament to our relationship with the communities right across the county.

“Over the Easter weekend we are supporting the critical need for people to stay at home and have put in place a policing operation to support that message with engagement, not enforcement, at its centre.

“On this occasion the officer was doing exactly that, attending an area with high footfall. An unfortunate wording of a tweet is regrettable but this should not detract from the key messages of stay at home, support the NHS and save lives. We are not, and never will be, scrutinising what people buy or have in their shopping baskets.”

The force has created a form which enables people to report where they see obvious breaches of the lockdown, which has provoked a mixed reaction, with some raising civil liberty concerns, while others welcomed the opportunity to inform the police of those risking lives by flouting the rules to gather together.

On Saturday, Cambridgeshire police said it had issued eight fines in two days for breaches of the social distancing guidelines, indicating that the vast majority of people were abiding by the rules and staying at home.

What are the rules?

To prevent the spread of the coronavirus, the government has said people should stay at home as much as possible, only leaving with a “reasonable excuse”. The government says this includes:

  • shopping for basic necessities, for example food and medicine, which must be as infrequent as possible.
  • one form of exercise a day, for example a run, walk, or cycle - alone or with members of your household.
  • any medical need, including to donate blood, avoid or escape risk of injury or harm, or to provide care or to help a vulnerable person.
  • travelling for work purposes, but only where you cannot work from home.

The guidelines advise that when out, people must stay at least two metres (6ft) from anyone except members of their immediate household.

The advice on exercising is that people should only go out to do this once a day, and to stay local wherever possible. Gatherings of more than two in parks and public spaces have been banned. Walking a dog is considered exercise, while sunbathing is not a valid reason to leave home.

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