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Sitting on park bench for too long could be breaking lockdown rules

More guidance has been issued to officers on how to police the restrictions on movement during the coronavirus outbreak.

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Mounted police officers speak to people on Primrose Hill, London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mounted police officers speak to people on Primrose Hill, London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Mounted police officers speak to people on Primrose Hill, London, as the UK continues in lockdown to help curb the spread of the coronavirus (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

People who sit on park benches for too long are likely to be breaking coronavirus lockdown rules, police have been told.

Guidance issued to forces in England also indicates people should not be working from nearby parks rather than their home.

But stopping to rest or have a picnic while on a long walk and buying luxury items and alcohol are all likely to be considered “reasonable”, according to the advice given to officers.

Forces have also been told people who need a “cooling-off” period after rows at home can move between households if they leave for several days.

It comes after some 3,203 fines were handed out by police in England between March 27 and April 13 to those considered to be flouting the rules.

  • Buying luxury items and alcohol
  • Driving to the countryside and walking, when far more time is spent walking than driving
  • Stopping to rest or eat lunch while on a long walk
  • Taking a break during exercise
  • Driving to partake in exercise
  • Exercising more than once a day
  • Moving house
  • Moving into a friend's address for several days after arguments at home
  • Buying tools and supplies for repairs and maintenance

The guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) and the College of Policing (CoP) gives more advice to officers on how to interpret the lockdown restriction laws – known as the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020.

The legislation gives them powers to fine those in breach.

Details of the document emerged on Thursday after it was issued to forces last week amid concerns some officers were misunderstanding the new powers.

Described as a reproduction of a “really useful practical guide” from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) on what might constitute a reasonable excuse, it warns the list of examples is “not exhaustive” and “each case still needs to be considered based on the individual facts as they present themselves”.

It adds: “Some public statements made soon after the adoption of the regulations suggested that members of the public could only leave their homes if ‘essential’ to do so.

“However, this is not the test set out in the regulations and there is no legal basis for a requirement in those terms to be imposed.”

  • Working in a park rather than from home
  • A short walk to a park bench for a long stay
  • Buying supplies to redecorate
  • Driving for a prolonged period with only brief exercise

The examples given could cause confusion as some seem to contradict Government guidance and are not set out specifically in law under the regulations – which leave police officers to interpret in many cases what would constitute a reasonable excuse.

According to the guidance, examples of incidents likely to be reasonable include buying luxury items and alcohol; driving to the countryside and walking, when far more time is spent walking than driving; stopping to rest or eat lunch while on a long walk; exercising more than once a day; moving to a friend’s address for several days to allow a “cooling-off” following arguments at home, and buying tools and supplies for repairs and maintenance.

The law permits people to move house, adding: “But this should be a genuine move (measured in days, not hours).”

It adds it is “acceptable” for a person to stop for a break during exercise and it is “lawful to drive for exercise”.

Examples of incidents not likely to be considered reasonable by police under the guidance include a person who can work from home choosing to work in a nearby park; a short walk to a park bench when the person remains seated for a much longer period; buying paint and brushes simply to redecorate a kitchen, and driving for a prolonged period with only brief exercise.

A CoP spokeswoman the information was put together so officers and the CPS are “joined up”, adding: “This isn’t new national guidance and the messaging for the public hasn’t changed.”

PA