Following numerous calls from concerned Westover residents about people failing to keep to social distancing rules and gathering in groups, often drinking, and sometimes having garden or house parties, Town Council Leader Cllr Brian Smedley (Westover) sought clarification from the Police on how they handle such reported breaches. The Town Council subsequently published on it’s website ‘what constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live’. These guidelines can be found here.
One Westover resident recently wrote “I am a resident in Bridgwater and am trying my best, like most of the population to do my bit by staying at home. I do, however have to walk my dog once a day and buy food. Could you please explain to me why every single time I go out I see the same faces gathering in a big group and clearly flouting the social distancing rules. They are usually in Blake gardens or at Brownes pond and are sat drinking booze in big groups. They are all known to the police as I have seen them being moved on. There is clearly no real deterrent for them though as they just carry on meeting up on a daily basis. It makes a mockery of the police and their ability to enforce the law,and makes the rest of us question why some of us in society seem to be exempt from the rules!!”
Replying to Cllr Smedley, Avon and Somerset Neighbourhood manager Joe Piscina wrote “At this time the Police are working hard to ensure the government guidelines are followed while dealing with our usual daily demand which has been a big ask but we are overall managing the extra demand involved during this lockdown very well. We are receiving a number of calls and online reports regarding breaches of the covid19 restrictions and we are making sure we resource as many of these incidents as possible. Overall I am pleased to report the response from the community of Sedgemoor has been very good with those sticking to the guidelines and we have certainly seen a huge reduction in people out and about and I thank everyone for that. As a force we are putting the emphasis on education and in the most part this has gone very well and those that we have had to speak to are listening to the advice.”
Joe continued “We have reports of people breaching the guidelines on a number of occasions and these matters have been dealt with using our new Police powers. The places mentioned are well known and are in our patrol plans and we will continue to enforce in those areas. At this time we are issuing fines to 2% of incidents and I am hoping it remains at this level because it means overall people aren’t breaching the conditions more often as the lockdown continues. Please can I ask that if people do see blatant breaches of the rules that they report ASAP through 101 or via online.”
Treating People Like Adults
Cllr Brian Smedley said “Some Tories have been proudly calling this a ‘Grass Up Your Neighbour” policy, but that misses the point. Clearly the Police have powers to deal with verified breaches and these are outlined here by the Inspector, but after all those years of Tory austerity their available capacity to intervene has been somewhat diminished. However, more to the point is treating people like adults and explaining the rules to them so that they understand the need to comply. Obviously, most people do this as people are basically responsible and community spirited. Some aren’t. And that’s often the very visible few. Of course, there have to be sanctions for persistent breaches but clarity, explanation and taking the people with you has to be the priority.”
Cllr Mick Lerry (Labour, Victoria) added a future word of caution “The police will need to update this information on social distancing when the Government announces new measures for coming out of Lockdown, as there will be more premises open and reasons will need to be given for the public to understand why they can visit these places. There will be more movement of people and the greater need for testing, tracking and tracing.”