England

Coronavirus: Lockdown rule-breakers urged to mend their ways

People gathering at a barbecue in Coventry on Tuesday Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption A group of more than 20 people were dispersed by police from a barbecue in Coventry

The UK is in lockdown and people are being told not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary - but not everybody is following the rules.

On Tuesday, police broke up a group of more than 20 people who had gathered for a barbecue in Coventry.

West Midlands Police said it was "unbelievable" to see people gathered "shoulder to shoulder".

However, Andy Street, the mayor of the West Midlands, says he believes people are following the new restrictions.

The Conservative mayor said he had walked around Birmingham and noticed "a huge change".

"Actually, everyone is saying we understand the seriousness of this and we are going to impose it on ourselves and that is the best thing," he said.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption West Midlands mayor Andy Street said he had noticed a "huge change" in Birmingham

It was a sentiment echoed by Staffordshire Police's Chief Constable Gareth Morgan, who said the "majority of people" were already making "real sacrifices to save lives".

But the West Midlands force's Chief Constable Dave Thompson has said police are receiving many calls about breaches of the lockdown.

As well as the group that were dispersed from the barbecue in Coventry, police in Shepherd's Bush, London, were called to groups of people sunbathing.

In a post on Twitter, officers team said: "Please don't just sit in groups."

And Derbyshire Police called on people not to visit the Peak District, sharing a picture of a row of cars.

Police in Rugby expressed exasperation at the "unbelievable excuses" offered by some for being outside on Tuesday.

Officers highlighted someone saying they were out to buy a bag of crisps - something that's obviously not an essential shopping trip.

Staffordshire Police visited a pub in Tamworth on Tuesday night after hearing reports it was planning a "lock-in".

In a Facebook message, the force wrote: "Come on guys, we're in a global crisis and this is literally a matter of life and death for some of us."

The force also reported that "too many people [were] out and about" in the town on Tuesday.

It urged people taking exercise not to come into the town centre, but to "go somewhere more remote".

Currently police do not have the power to issue fines to rule-breakers, although parliament is expected to pass emergency legislation on Thursday giving officers this right.

Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Officers tipped over the barbecue to bring the gathering in Coventry to a close

Life is being made more difficult for the police by the dozens of calls they have been receiving about things like cancelled hair appointments and whether window cleaners are allowed to work.

There is clearly confusion over what the rules are, but police want to get the message home that they are not the people to ask such questions.

In terms of how they tackle the rule-breakers they encounter, Warwickshire Police's Chief Constable Martin Jelley says police are trying to make people understand why they need to follow the rules.

"Where we do come across people believed to be in breach of the measures, our first actions will always be to explain the measures and the importance of following them during this national health emergency as we seek to persuade people to do the right thing," he said.

Image copyright PA Media
Image caption Fewer people have been visiting Coventry city centre since the lockdown was announced

In the West Midlands force area, Mr Thompson said that once the emergency legislation was passed, officers would target any larger gatherings.

Anyone who wants to let police know about "large-scale breaches with large numbers of people congregating" should do so via the non-emergency 101 number or online.

But they are advised not to call 999 as the line is needed for those in a genuine emergency.

"We would ask you to trust that we will target the most problematic behaviour," Mr Thompson said.

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