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Coronavirus: Massive fall in fines handed out by police over social distancing in Northern Ireland

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The number of fines issued by police in Northern Ireland over social distancing rules dropped from nearly 400 to 30 in a month, it can be revealed. (PSNI/PA)

The number of fines issued by police in Northern Ireland over social distancing rules dropped from nearly 400 to 30 in a month, it can be revealed. (PSNI/PA)

PA

The number of fines issued by police in Northern Ireland over social distancing rules dropped from nearly 400 to 30 in a month, it can be revealed. (PSNI/PA)

The number of fines issued by police in Northern Ireland over social distancing rules dropped from nearly 400 to 30 in a month, it can be revealed.

Assembly regulations announced on March 28 stated no person may leave the place where they live without reasonable excuse, in an attempt to stem the spread of coronavirus.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations NI 2020 also banned gatherings of more than two people.

It gave the PSNI powers to issue fines of up to £960 for those who repeatedly disregard officers' requests to disperse.

On April 24, Assistant Chief Constable Alan Todd said police had issued 374 fines and 615 community resolution notices.

He said the approach of police was engaging with people, explaining the regulations and encouraging them to follow them, before turning to enforcement as a "last resort".

The initial high number of fines reportedly led Mr Todd to instruct officers to seek approval of a senior colleague before issuing penalties. In an email to officers, reported by The Impartial Reporter, he described the measure as a "short-term quality assurance and reporting measure".

The number of fines issued by police dropped dramatically in May, according to PSNI figures released to the PA news agency.

Between May 1-26, 30 fines and 92 community resolution notices were issued by officers.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie said the legislation had not been "as clear as it should have been" for police officers to enact.

He added: "But it's the devil they do, the devil they don't for police. They were criticised when giving out fines, they would be criticised if they stopped."

SDLP MLA Sinead Bradley said: "There has been a marked increase in the number of people out and about and concerns have been raised about the extent to which lockdown rules are being followed.

"It's important, however, that the Covid-19 powers afforded to police are used proportionately and responsibly. People have made immense sacrifices to stick by the rules and it's important that we continue to do that."

Dr Jonny Byrne, a criminologist and senior lecturer at Ulster University, said that while there was change of approach in administering fines, the health message was also very strong.

"It will remain a mechanism if people are causing a risk, there needs to be something there to deter," he added.

Belfast Telegraph