Monday, 30th October 2017

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Overzealous UK police spark anger

Neil Basu reminds cops that ‘preserving the trust of the public is our mantra’

By Amit Roy in London
  • Published 1.04.20, 1:47 AM
  • Updated 1.04.20, 1:47 AM
  • 2 mins read
Two mounted police make their way over Westminster Bridge in London (AP photo)

Neil Basu, one of the most senior policemen in the country, has gently chided junior ranks for overzealous enforcement of the coronavirus lockdown, reminding them that “preserving the trust and confidence of the public in policing by consent is our mantra and has been since 1829”.

Basu, who is assistant commissioner at Scotland Yard and the national lead for counter terrorism policy, said he was speaking as the son of a general practitioner — his late father Pankaj Kumar Basu had come to the UK from Calcutta like many Bengali doctors — and a nurse.

But he felt he had to remind police forces throughout the country: “Everyone in policing is acutely aware that how we police this pandemic will be remembered for many years to come.

“The two most important police officers in the country, Cressida Dick, the Met Police Commissioner, and Martin Hewitt, the chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, have both made it clear that persuasion and education to do the right thing is our primary goal.”

Basu’s words were carefully chosen because he realises police officers, who have overnight acquired sweeping new powers under the government’s emergency legislation, have a difficult job in ensuring the lockdown rules are being observed.

Government rules say people can only go out to shop for basic necessities “as infrequently as possible”, to have exercise once a day, alone or with members of their household and near their home, to meet a medical need and to travel to work if they absolutely cannot work from home.

But it does seem some forces and individual police officers have overstepped the mark. For example, the use of drones by Derbyshire police to film people parking their cars for walks in the desolate expanse of the Peak District and put it on social media so as to embarrass the alleged offenders provoked a furious response from Lord Sumption, a former Justice of the Supreme Court.

The police also threw black dye into blue waters to render them less attractive.

Sumption told BBC Radio 4’s World at One: “I have to say the behaviour of the Derbyshire Police in trying to shame people by using their undoubted right to travel to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the fells so people don’t want to go there is frankly disgraceful. This is what a police state is like. I have to say..Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions.

“There is a natural tendency, of course, and a strong temptation for the police to lose sight of their real functions and turn themselves from citizens in uniforms to glorified school prefects,” he said, conjuring up images of Flashman, the bully, in Tom Brown’s School Days.

“The real problem is that when human societies lose their freedoms, it isn’t when tyrants take it away, it is when people willingly surrender their freedom against some external threat — and the threat is usually a real threat, but usually exaggerated. That is what I fear we are seeing now.”

The Association of Convenience Stores reported police going through customers’ baskets to remove “non-essential items” in pharmacies, and Easter Eggs and hot cross buns being banned from sale even though regulations allow such essential stores to remain open.

Asked whether shops could continue to sell non-essential items, such as Easter eggs, a spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “We have set out which shops can remain open. If a shop is allowed to remain open, then it will of course sell whatever items it has in stock.”