SPOT fines of £100 will be issued to people flouting the government’s new ‘rule of six’ law, Hampshire and Dorset police chiefs have warned – but only as a last resort.
Both forces have called on residents across the two counties to “play their part” amid a national rise in infection rates causing the government to introduce measures banning groups of six gathering.
They also said residents can report others not respecting the new rules and encouraged them to do so through their websites – both forces pledging to “target the most problematic behaviour”.
While infection rates in Hampshire remain relatively low, they have been creeping back up in Dorset. Both forces said they had been using a policy known as the ‘four Es’ – engage, explain and encourage – people about the measures, with enforcement a final option.
Assistant Chief Constable at Hampshire Constabulary, Maggie Blyth, stressed: “We will use common sense and discretion to determine what is reasonable. As a last resort we will enforce, whether it’s by directing people to leave an area, or issuing a fine.
“We have found that the majority of breaches reported to us can be resolved without having to issue a fine,” she added.
“As you will expect, we have proportionate plans in place with dedicated patrols, and we will be out in our communities, speaking to people and making sure they understand what is required.”
Her Dorset Police counterpart, ACC Sam de Raya, said those gathering in groups larger than six would be “proactively challenged”.
“My hope is that in the majority of circumstances where police do challenge a group, people will disperse and no fine will be issued, but the powers are there should officers need them,” she said.
“The pandemic has not gone away and everyone must play their part to protect themselves, their families and our communities,” she said, appealing to youngsters returning to Bournemouth University to “respect yourself” and abide by the measures.
Both ACC’s said policing demand had returned to “pre-Covid levels” in the counties, and stressed officers were “working hard” and would appreciate the public’s help.
There are some exceptions to the rules introduced by the government; namely if everyone in the group is a member of the same household or two linked households.
They also do not apply to schools, childcare, education or training, workplaces, for voluntary charitable purposes or providing support to a vulnerable person.
Larger groups of no more than 30 may be permitted at weddings or civil partnerships, funerals and other religious or belief-based life ceremonies.
Police have the ability to issue on-the-spot £100 fixed penalty notices, which can rise to a maximum of £3,200 for repeat offending.
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill added: “I can appreciate that many people feel weary about what feels like yet another set of regulations coming into force, but sadly Covid-19 is still with us and we all have a duty to stop its spread.
“I know the vast majority of Dorset residents have acted sensibly throughout the pandemic, and I would ask everyone to please abide by these new restrictions, help protect our communities and avoid putting our hard-working officers, staff and volunteers under any undue additional pressure.”
Those looking to report potential breaches in Hampshire should visit www.hampshire.police.uk/tua/tell-us-about/c19/tell-us-about-possible-breach-coronavirus-measures/ and in Dorset www.dorset.police.uk/do-it-online/