Huge crowds on Southsea beach 'make mockery' of social distancing say residents

PEOPLE who live near Southsea beach have accused huge weekend crowds of making a ‘mockery’ of social distancing.

Tuesday, 23rd June 2020, 7:00 am

According to several residents more than 200 people congregated in close proximity on the beach along Eastney Esplanade on Saturday evening.

One eyewitness, who asked not to be named, said it was ‘practically like a festival’ as music was played at Southsea Beach Cafe.

She said: ‘I couldn’t believe it.

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Large crowds gathered on the beach near Southsea Beach Cafe in Eastney Esplanade, Portsmouth.

‘They had signs up asking people to socially distance, but no one was paying attention along the beach.

‘It was ridiculous.’

The cafe’s owner, Ian Clarke, said his staff refuse to serve anyone flouting social distancing rules and has hired security to help maintain them.

His cafe did not hold an event on Saturday but runs a barbecue from the terrace for takeaway food, he said.

Large crowds gathered on the beach near Southsea Beach Cafe in Eastney Esplanade, Portsmouth.

Another resident – who also asked not to be named – said the lack of distancing on the beach had been common recently.

He said: ‘(Saturday) night was typical of recent weekends on the beach by the pier and also around Canoe Lake.

‘Last week (there was) a group of 30 on the beach. The week before I counted 41. ‘

Rules say people can meet outside in groups of up to six people from different households.

Police were seen attempting to move on large groups from the beach.

People are also advised to remain two metres apart, unless they are part of the same household or social bubble.

However the government’s advice continues to ask Britons to stay at home as much as possible.

The police presence required to ensure the rules are being followed along the beach has dwindled since the start of the lockdown, according to one of the residents.

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Residents reported signs asking for people to practice social distancing were being ignored.

He said: ‘Like the majority of people, I have tried very hard to adhere to the guidance. (Saturday) night made a mockery of it.

‘At one point two police officers, possibly community police, arrived but were unable to do anything to break up the group.

‘It is surprising, however, that they did not call for support to enforce social distancing and group numbers.’

Cafe owner Mr Clarke told The News: ‘We haven't put on any event, we’re operating as a takeaway facility.

‘We serve a barbecue from the back so my staff were on the back terrace.

‘We did speak to the policeman. We've been open for four weeks. We know that we’re not supposed to have anyone in.

‘With the weather the beach cafe has become a bit of a go-to area on the beach.’

Staff employed by the cafe routinely litter pick the surrounding area and have found glass bottles from shops, which the eatery does not serve.

He added: ‘If they’re going round the corner it’s a bit of an awkward one, it’s a tricky situation.

‘We're obviously trying to maintain social distancing.’

A Hampshire police spokeswoman said: ‘We can confirm we received a report at 8.12pm on Saturday 20 June of a number of people gathering in Eastney Esplanade, Southsea.

‘Certain restrictions have been lifted, and people are spending more and more time outdoors. This continues to present some challenges when it comes to maintaining recommended guidance and we all have a personal responsibility for following this Government guidance, which includes social distancing.

‘Southsea Common forms part of our patrol plan and we will continue to use common sense and discretion to determine what’s reasonable, with officers engaging, explaining, encouraging and, only as a last resort, enforcing. We will do this whilst balancing the need to respond to crime and disorder which will always be business as usual for us.

‘Police still have a role and will focus any enforcement activity required on those activities, which are now unlawful in the regulations, such as outdoor gatherings of more than six people.’

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