British History shows us that assaults on human rights all too often occur during times of extraordinary crisis. The coronavirus pandemic is no different. The British government afforded the cops a powerful, new toolkit with which to detain those accused of violating quarantine rules. Rushed legislation, including the Coronavirus Act 2020, allowed the police to use “reasonable force” to make members of the public comply with lockdown orders. And updates to the Health Protection Regulations meant citizens could no longer leave their own homes without “reasonable excuse.” The constabulary embraced these new powers with remarkable zeal.
Many forces began investigating the minutiae of everyday life, taking an unprecedented interest in the public’s shopping habits, exercise routines, social behaviors, and means of travel. Citizens were punished for spending too long outdoors. Police vans patrolled park benches and shopping precincts. The “non-essential” activities of walkers and sunbathers were chronicled across police Twitter accounts, shaming the non-compliant.
Clamping Down on Easter Eggs
At the height of Britain’s coronavirus emergency, the government ordered the closure of cafes, restaurants, outdoor markets, and other “non-essential” businesses. While convenience stores remained open to the public, some officials started to enforce trading rules that did not even exist.
Gloucestershire cops quickly descended upon the Gloucester Retail Park. The force deployed a CCTV vehicle to observe the shopping habits of locals. The officers then admonished customers for purchasing non-essential items. “Essential journey? Some items on our list so far… paint, top soil, a sat-nav, an Easter egg, a scratch card, bamboo fencing, stone chippings,” tweeted the Gloucester City Police. “Ask yourself if it’s really necessary. Help save lives and stay at home.
Issuing Fines for Chalking
A London bakery recently introduced safety measures to protect customers from the coronavirus. On March 27, the owners of Grodzinski Bakery in Edgware sprayed social-distancing markers on the sidewalk. It was hoped this would keep customers at least two meters apart when queuing outside the bakery. But the measures caught the attention of one eagle-eyed Metropolitan Police sergeant. The cop argued that the social-distancing lines were a form of graffiti, before issuing a ticket for criminal damage. The bakery manager remonstrated with the officer, explaining that the markers were made up of temporary, spray-on chalk.
Following Citizens with Drones
The deployment of surveillance technologies is becoming increasingly common in modern Britain. Police constabularies are now armed with sophisticated aerial drones, capable of collecting live video feeds and thermal images. During the recent coronavirus outbreak, the police used these drones, along with roadblocks, to ensure citizens followed social distancing rules and avoided unnecessary journeys.
The Coronavirus Act 2020 granted the police new powers to force residents to return to their homes. Meanwhile, the Civil Aviation Authority relaxed drone safety rules, affording officers more effective jurisdiction over beaches, parks, and residential areas.
Flipping a Barbecue
On March 24, neighbors of an apartment complex in Coventry, England, were busy preparing an outdoor barbecue. But the local bobbies caught scent of the group’s delicious cooking and arrived in force. Discovering a group of around 20 people, the West Midlands Police officers instructed the group to disperse.
The group claimed it was within its rights to continue the barbecue. “My children need to eat,” pleaded one woman. When it became clear the residents would not back down, the officers walked up to the barbecue and flipped it on its side. For good measure, the cops took a photo of their handiwork. The image, showing food and charcoal strewn across the ground, was uploaded to the West Midlands Police website. “Our officers were forced to tip the BBQ over as the defiant group initially refused to leave,”read the caption.
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48 Hours in Custody for ‘Loitering’
Marie Dinou was the first person convicted under the Coronavirus Act 2020. On March 28, the British Transport Police (BTP) spotted Dinou “loitering between platforms” at Newcastle Central Station. She was also accused of travelling without a valid ticket. This prompted the BTP to call the regular police. The officers detained the 41-year-old for failing to comply with the Coronavirus Act 2020 and refusing to provide her “identity or reasons for journey.
Charging a Homeless Man for Breaking Lockdown
In late April, a Metropolitan Police officer confronted a homeless man at Liverpool Street Station in London. The man, Sultan Monsour, told the officer that he lived in Stratford, before admitting he was actually homeless. But the cop’s patience eventually “ran out.” Upon seeing the rough sleeper for a second time, 10 days later, the officer charged him with violating the lockdown. The charge sheet stated: “[W]ithout reasonable excuse, other than as permitted by the regulations, [you] were outside of the place where you were living, namely no fixed address or refused to provide your address details.