P

olice are to fine people in England £200 for lockdown breaches after their first verbal warning, according to new guidance seen by the Sunday Telegraph.

The  documents reportedly instruct all officers to issue penalties to anyone who is in breach of the coronavirus rules and refuses to return home once asked to do so.

The guidance from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, titled “Tier 4 National Lockdown”, has been issued to all chief constables, according to the paper.

A Home Office insider told the Telegraph that officers would be quicker to fine people, warning: “We are going to see more rapid movement to enforcement.

“Over 1,000 people died yesterday. It is important that everyone sticks to the rules. The rules have been around for long enough.”

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Home Secretary Priti Patel has praised officers for helping to control the spread of the virus

/ Getty Images )

The reports came as Priti Patel defended police for already taking tough action on lockdown breaches, insisting “strong enforcement” is needed.

On Saturday, the Home Secretary commended officers up and down the country for “playing a crucial role in controlling the spread of the virus.”

One of the pair, Jessica Allen, told the BBC that officers also told her off for bringing a hot drink, saying it was “classed as a picnic” and therefore prohibited under new coronavirus rules.

The force has since announced it will review all fixed penalty notices issued during the third national lockdown after receiving clarification about the Covid regulations from the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

Meanwhile, West Mercia Police came under fire for tweeting on Friday that having a snowball fight was “obviously not a justifiable reason to be out of your house”.

It warned that such tomfoolery would “likely result” in a £200 fine for breaking the lockdown rules.

But despite a well-respected former police chief warning that such overzealousness would undermine the public’s willingness to comply with restrictions, Ms Patel has extolled officers’ efforts.

The Home Secretary said: “Our police officers are working tirelessly to keep us safe. Not only are they continuing to take criminals off our streets, but they are also playing a crucial role in controlling the spread of the virus.

“The vast majority of the public have supported this huge national effort and followed the rules.

“But the tragic number of new cases and deaths this week shows there is still a need for strong enforcement where people are clearly breaking these rules to ensure we safeguard our country’s recovery from this deadly virus.

“Enforcing these rules saves lives. It is as simple as that. Officers will continue to engage with the public across the country and will not hesitate to take action when necessary.”

Anti-lockdown protesters gather in Clapham Common

Her statement follows a report in the Daily Telegraph suggesting ministers are considering a “tough crackdown” to pressure more Britons into staying at home amid surging rates of coronavirus infections, deaths and hospital admissions.

Earlier on Saturday, Ex-Durham Police chief constable Mike Barton urged politicians to keep their messaging “simple” around Covid regulations and avoid changing the rules so frequently.

AddressingDerbyshire Police’s treatment of the two walkers, Mr Barton told BBC Breakfast: “I think they will row back from this position, but sadly there will be some damage done here because, for the public to comply with the law, they have got to think and see the police are acting fairly.

“It’s called procedural justice. If police aren’t seen to be acting fairly, the public won’t comply.”

All you need to know about the new national lockdown

Lockdown guidance instructs the public to limit exercise – including running, cycling, swimming and walking – to once per day, and says people can leave their home but should not travel outside their local area.

Mr Barton, who led Durham Police between 2012 and 2019, said the lack of a clear definition of the word “local” was part of the issue.

He said: “What’s crucial in this pandemic is that the messaging is clear. It’s Whitehall that’s written this.

“In Scotland, when they talked about people not travelling, they said you can’t cross a local authority area. Now everyone knows what that means. Whereas here, we’ve suddenly dreamt up this word local.

“None of those issues have ever been described by the law before, so no wonder there is some confusion out there.”

Mr Barton said police forces have had “hundreds” of different rules sent to them in the past nine months, with little training on how to enforce them.

He added: “I have a great deal of sympathy for the police, but equally I have a great deal of sympathy for these two women who were exercising in what they considered to be a safe way.

“What I would ask for is politicians stop changing the rules as much and let’s keep the messaging simple.”

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