Coronavirus: Police warn of 'moral obligation' to follow lockdown in Portsmouth as top cop reveals 'spike' in criminals spitting at officers

A TOP police officer has warned action will be taken against people ignoring the government lockdown and said: ‘This is about saving people’s lives.’

By Ben Fishwick
Friday, 27th March 2020, 4:12 pm
Updated Friday, 27th March 2020, 8:04 pm

Assistant chief constable Scott Chilton told The News police will be out patrolling amid the global health pandemic - despite a ‘spike’ in people being detained for other crime spitting at officers and claiming they have coronavirus.

Speaking on Friday, after police were handed new powers a day before, Mr Chilton said officers will be in parks and large open areas including Southsea Common - using new powers, including imposing a £60 fine, as a ‘last resort’. None have so far been issued.

He added: ‘It’s disappointing if people have to issue a ticket because you don’t take personal responsibility for what is common sense.’

Assistant chief constable Scott Chilton. Picture: Malcolm Wells (180320-8687)

Powers under the Coronavirus Act 2020 allow police officers to impose the fine, dropping to £30 if paid in 14 days. Repeat offenders’ fines will be doubled each time they are caught.

Officers can also arrest people and disperse groups of more than two people who do not form part of the same household.

Lockdown rules order people to stay at home except to infrequently grocery shop for essentials, commute only if absolutely necessary, for any medical need, care for a vulnerable person, and exercise once a day.

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So far 15 people with Covid-19 have died at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham, with 42 cases in the Portsmouth council area confirmed.

‘This is about saving people's lives,’ Mr Chilton said. ‘There have been very, very few incidents where members of the public have been unco-operative.

‘The public have been fantastic and that's really encouraging. As days and weeks go by that situation may change.'

He added: ‘The majority of people have been absolutely co-operative and following the guidance.

‘Policing 365 days a year will always have people that breach the law and that will continue regardless of whether there's a national plan of self-isolation.'

‘Our priority is the same as everybody's is - to reduce the infection.’

But Mr Chilton, who is leading the force’s strategy for coronavirus, hit out at those people being arrested and spitting at officers.

He said: ‘We’ve seen quite an increase in officers being spat at by people who are being spat at by people who are claiming to have coronavirus and assaulting police officers.

‘Our position in that is clear. It simply won’t be tolerated. We’re working with the Crown Prosecution Service and the courts to make sure that for those who are convicted, sentencing is strong.

‘I don’t think any reasonable person would think it’s acceptable to spit at police officers. We’ve seen a spike in it, and it’s totally unacceptable.’

Mr Chilton also said:

:: Police will assess each crime to decide if officers should attend in a bid to reduce the spread of infection.

:: Officers ‘are not immune’ to the virus but there are ‘sufficient’ numbers in place with contingency plans ‘to make sure the public are protected’.

:: Hampshire has seen an increase in hate crime towards people ‘particularly of Asian background’.

:: Based on evidence from China's lockdown, he expects to see an increase in domestic abuse and urged people to call 999 in an emergency or see information on if it is safe to do so.

:: Crime reported to police has ‘reduced’ overall slightly since lockdown started - and thanked people for ‘applying common sense’ when contacting police.

Mr Chilton said: ‘My officers will be speaking to people reminding them of their moral obligation to follow the government’s directive, explaining what they need to do and if they fail to comply they may well receive a ticket and a fine.’

Hampshire police and crime commissioner Michael Lane said: ‘Policing’s first action will be to engage, explain and encourage those creating risk to return home, obey social distancing and not to congregate.

‘Ultimately if this does not create the right response, the additional powers are welcome options to have.’