Coronavirus: Senior officers deny UK is now 'police state' amid claims some forces 'went too far'

Officers from North Yorkshire Police stop motorists in York to check their travel is 'essential'. (AFP via Getty Images)

Senior officers have denied that the UK is now a “police state” following claims some forces have gone too far in tackling the coronavirus.

Police forces have been instructed to take a “consistent” approach to how they implement social distancing measures after a wave of criticism.

Police chiefs have defended their interpretation of the measures, which gives officers powers to use fines and arrests, with some forces urging people to report their neighbours if they break the rules.

Derbyshire Police has come in for particular criticism for its use of drones to film walkers in the Peak District and dyeing the Blue Lagoon in Buxton black to deter groups of people from gathering at the beauty spot.

On Monday, former Supreme Court justice Lord Sumption, said the force’s actions had "shamed our policing traditions”.

But Derbyshire’s chief constable Peter Goodman said on Tuesday he believed his force had not gone too far.

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He told BBC Radio 5 Live: "Some forces will be doing not enough, perhaps, some forces have probably gone a bit too far and some sit in the middle. Some would say we in Derbyshire have gone too far.

"I genuinely believe that we haven't because we are trying to do everything through conversation and explanation."

He said the decision to deploy a drone in the Peak District came after supermarkets in villages were emptied and beauty spots were inundated with sightseers.

He said: ”It's a really difficult situation we're in, if I'm honest.

"We are in completely unprecedented times and we, in policing, certainly never expected to be asked by the government to play the role that we're playing, because we didn't envisage that we were going to end up in this situation.”

He said no arrests have been made in Derbyshire for breaching the rules of the coronavirus restrictions.

Some police forces have been criticised for going 'too far' to enforce social distancing measures. (AFP via Getty Images)
Derbyshire Police dyed the "blue lagoon" in Harpur Hill, Buxton black to discourage visitors. (Buxton Safer Neighbourhood Policing Team/PA)

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He said: "Here in Derbyshire we haven't arrested a single person, we haven't reported a single person for summons, we haven't set up a single road block, we haven't given out a single fixed penalty notice.

"All we've done is try to have conversations with our public, both face-to-face and through social media."

West Midlands Police chief constable Dave Thompson said arguments that Britain was becoming a “police state” were “widely off the mark”.

He tweeted: “There have been a small number of cases I have seen where I think this could have been done differently. However, comments re police state are widely off the mark.”

Transport secretary Grant Shapps admitted there had been “one or two instances” of police being heavy-handed but said in the main, forces were being “sensible”.

Read more: Police will 'ignore crimes' as coronavirus causes officer shortage

Guidance sent out to forces said communities must receive a “consistent” level of service from officers along with a “single style and tone”, according to the BBC.

The document from the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing was issued to the 43 police forces in England and Wales last week.

Lancashire Police issued 123 fines for breaches of the rules over the weekend, while officers in Cheshire summonsed six people for various offences, including multiple people from the same house going out to buy “non-essential” items.

Britain’s most senior police officer, Metropolitan Police commissioner Dame Cressida Dick, has told her force only to use the new powers, which allow them to fine or arrest those who break lockdown laws, as a last resort.

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NPCC chairman Martin Hewitt said forces need to show consistency in encouraging people to follow the coronavirus restrictions.

The NPCC guidance says the public must must receive a "consistent" level of service and that the measures should not be used on those who are vulnerable and cannot return home safely.

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