More police forces from across the UK have confirmed they will enforce coronavirus restrictions if they are broken over Christmas – as nearly 20 per cent of families said they would ignore the Rule of Six.
A MailOnline investigation into the England and Wales’ 43 constabularies has uncovered differences in approach ranging from intervening in gatherings to welcoming visitors.
But other forces have been unable to plan their tactics, because they simply have no idea what Tier – and the subsequent rules – their area will fall in by December 25.
It comes after a YouGov poll revealed just 68 per cent of respondents would abide by the Rule of Six over the size of social gatherings.
And the Government has indicated that it will act to stop large family gatherings this Christmas, with Environment Secretary George Eustice today warning that even festive gatherings that adhere to the Rule of Six could be outlawed if they include people living in different lockdown tiers.
The possibility of large groups receiving a knock on the door as they settle down for Christmas dinner was first hinted at yesterday.
A map showing how police forces have said they will tackle the Christmas period
A YouGov poll suggested nearly a fifth of Brits would break the Rule of Six for Christmas
Christmas dinner is feared to be under threat from strict coronavirus gathering restrictions
What is the Rule of Six?
- Max social gatherings SIX PEOPLE
- Applies indoors and outdoors
- Applies in private homes
- Applies in pubs and restaurants
- Does NOT apply to schools or workplaces
- Does NOT apply to weddings, funerals, team sport
- Does NOT apply if household bubbles are bigger than six people
- Police will be encouraged to break up larger groups and issue £100 fines, which will then double on each repeat offence up to £3,200
Greater Manchester Police, the Metropolitan Police Service and Merseyside Police all directed enquiries to a statement confirming they could ‘enforce as a last resort’.
The National Police Chiefs’ Council comment said: ‘We understand that this is a period where people want to be with their loved ones, celebrating this holiday.
We police against the regulations that are in law, and everybody has their part to play to help protect local communities and loved ones and we are confident people will adhere to the rules and help us to reduce the risk of transmission.
‘The police’s approach remains to engage, explain and encourage people to follow the rules in the first instance and enforce as a last resort, where there are clear breach of the rules taking place.’
A spokesperson for Merseyside’s Police and Crime Commissioner Jane Kennedy added: ‘Enforcement is always a last resort but will be used where necessary.’
On Tuesday David Jamieson, the West Midlands police and commissioner, said officers would investigate reports of rule-breaking over the festive period.
He said: ‘If we think there’s large groups of people gathering where they shouldn’t be, then police will have to intervene.
‘If, again, there’s flagrant breaking of the rules, then the police would have to enforce.’
The approach was softer in some areas, with Norfolk, Cumbria, Hertfordshire, and Devon and Cornwall saying they would be ‘sensible and fair’ and did not mention enforcement.
Alison Hernandez, Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly,said legal gatherings of six were still possible.
There are three levels for tiers and different restrictions for the areas placed into them
WHAT ARE THE RULES IN DIFFERENT TIERS OF LOCKDOWN?
Tier one restrictions mirror those already in place across England.
These include the rule of six, a 10pm curfew, group sport to be played outdoors only and a maximum of 15 guests at wedding ceremonies.
Tier two restrictions mean people are prohibited from socialising with anybody outside their household or support bubble in any indoor setting
Two households may be allowed to meet in a private garden and public outdoor spaces, as long as the rule of six and social distancing are followed.
Tradespeople – such as plumbers and electricians – can continue to go into a household for work.
Restaurants can open, but only until 10pm.
Pubs and bars will be ordered to close unless they also operate as a restaurant.
This definition extends to pubs which sell ‘substantial’ meals, which like restaurants will be allowed to stay open but only serve alcohol to people eating a meal.
Locals are advised only to leave their areas for essential travel such as work, education or health, and must return before the end of the day.
Overnight stays by those from outside of these ‘high risk’ areas are also be banned. Households are not be allowed to mix either indoors or outdoors.
She told MailOnline: ‘Exceptions to the rule of six include support bubbles, so even if there’s no change to the regulations by Christmas people will be able to gather with support bubbles that could include an adult who lives by themselves or an adult with children under the age of 18.
‘Just as I have done with my mum. Christmas is a really important time of year, it can also be a time of huge stress for people, and while many are enjoying themselves we also see annual increases in levels of domestic violence and suicide.
‘I’d urge people to make sensible, practical plans for the Christmas break that take account of the rules that protect our most vulnerable, but also those who might experience bouts of loneliness.
‘It’s also a tough time of year for emergency services workers, who will be working while others relax and enjoy themselves.
‘We can all make their lives easier by obeying by the simple regulations set out by Government.
‘Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly are low risk counties in terms of Covid-19 risk and so providing people are sensible and respectful, we will be welcoming visitors from parts of the country with similarly low infection rates.’
Police approach in other areas was not as clear, with forces unable to answer for varying reasons.
Northumbria Police explained: ‘This isn’t something we would be able to comment on at this time as we do not know which restrictions will be in place over the Christmas period.
‘Our officers will continue to follow the national guidance and police using their common sense, like they have throughout the pandemic.’
South Wales Police said their tactics would be informed by Government policy at the time of the season.
A spokesman said: ‘It will depend on what restrictions are introduced by Welsh or UK government at the time.’
Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Cleveland Police also said their approach would depend on what tier setting their districts were placed in.
Meanwhile, the Environment Secretary told LBC this morning that festive gatherings that adhere to the Rule of Six could be outlawed if they include people living in different lockdown tiers.
Mr Eustice said it is ‘too early to say’ how lockdowns could affect festivities, but added: ‘Obviously if we do need to have restrictions in place, and prevent families from coming together in large gatherings, if that’s necessary to control the virus that’s what we’ll have to do.’
Asked on Times Radio if families from different tiers would be able to spend Christmas together, he added this is ‘not provided for currently’.
Mr Eustice was speaking after a police chief warned that Christmas family celebrations could be broken up by police officers entering homes if they flout lockdown rules.
David Jamieson, the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, said officers will investigate reports of rule-breaking over the festive period.
The West Midlands is currently under Tier 2 restrictions, meaning people cannot mix with any other households or bubbles inside.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said that even festive gatherings that adhere to the Rule of Six could be outlawed if they include people living in different lockdown tiers
David Jamieson, the West Midlands police and crime commissioner, said officers will investigate reports of rule-breaking over the festive period
The West Midlands are currently under Tier 2 restrictions, meaning people cannot mix with any other households or bubbles inside
Mr Jamieson told The Telegraph: ‘If we think there’s large groups of people gathering where they shouldn’t be, then police will have to intervene. If, again, there’s flagrant breaking of the rules, then the police would have to enforce.
‘It’s not the police’s job to stop people enjoying their Christmas. However, we are there to enforce the rules that the Government makes, and if the Government makes those rules then the Government has to explain that to the public.’
The police chief also warned about the upcoming Hanukkah and Diwali celebrations which will also see families eager to gather inside, contrary to the rules in certain areas.
The three-tier system was introduced earlier this month in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus in regional hotspots.
Today broadcaster and peer Baroness (Joan) Bakewell spoke about the ‘moral imperatives of caring and loving for each other’, telling the BBC: ‘It seems to me that many older people might be prepared to take the risk.
‘How many Christmases have you got left in your life that you’re prepared to give up one just for the sake of perhaps living a little longer?
‘I think it’s going to be a moral decision that families are going to have to take. You can’t legalise it, you can’t police it, so people are thrown on their own resources to work this out for themselves.’
Mr Jamieson was speaking a day after police in Wales were compared to ‘Communist China’ for raiding a Cardiff church service
Police chiefs have warned that Christmas family celebrations will be broken up by officers if they flout lockdown rules
Jane Kennedy, the PCC in Merseyside, which is currently a Tier 3 region, said she would also investigate reports of illegal gatherings over Christmas.
Mr Jamieson said he fears civil unrest could boil over in the West Midlands in the near future, with the end of the furlough scheme ‘very likely’ to push people over the edge.
He said: ‘We’re sitting on a time bomb here. We’re getting very near the stage where you could see a considerable explosion of frustration and energy. Things are very on the edge in a lot of communities and it wouldn’t take very much to spark off unrest, riots, damage.’
The police chief even compared the febrile situation to the 2011 riots sparked by the death of Mark Duggan, which saw violence spread across UK cities.
He fears the trigger this time could be heavy-handed police forces shutting down celebrations and enforcing harsh restrictions.
He said people who have never been involved in crime could suddenly become emboldened to take part in the disobedience.
Forces in Manchester, London and Merseyside are concerned about potential violence, he added.
But Ms Kennedy disagreed, saying she doesn’t believe we are on the brink of serious disorder.
Their comments come after BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire admitted that if the rule of six were still in place by Christmas, she would ignore it.
Mr Jamieson said he fears civil unrest could boil over in the West Midlands in the near future, with the end of the furlough scheme ‘very likely’ to push people over the edge
She later backtracked from this stance, but her initial statement reflected an increasingly widespread disenchantment with the current rules.
The idea that ‘we can carry on as we are’ and have a normal Christmas ‘is wishful thinking in the extreme’, a Government scientific adviser has said.
Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said ‘radical action’ would be needed to stem the rise in coronavirus cases, particularly in regions with high incidence of the virus.
Prof Edmunds, who told MPs that tens of thousands of deaths could occur during this wave of the pandemic, said further measures are needed to bring cases down.
The idea that ‘we can carry on as we are’ and have a normal Christmas ‘is wishful thinking in the extreme’, a Government scientific adviser has said
He said that a circuit-breaker is needed across the whole country or at least in areas where incidence is high.
‘The only way that we can have a relatively safe and normal Christmas is if we take radical action now to reduce incidence – at the very least in high incidence areas – and keep the incidence low across the country by implementing a package of measures to reduce social contacts,’ he said.
‘The notion that we can carry on as we are and have a Christmas that we can celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme.’
A No10 spokesman previously said: ‘The PM has been clear previously that he is hopeful that in many ways we could be able to get some aspects of our lives back to normal by Christmas.
The Government has not made any decisions about Christmas yet but many are preparing for restrictions to still be in place
‘As I say, we’ve been clear about the ambition to ensure that people may celebrate Christmas as a family this year.’
The comments contrasted with the stance taken by Treasury Chief Secretary Steve Barclay in a round of interviews on Friday morning.
He said: ‘I think few people expect it to be exactly as it would normally because we will be living with this virus for some time.
‘And the chief medical officer and the chief scientific adviser have been very clear on that.
‘But, your point really was about the ability of families to spend Christmas together – that is something we all hope to be in a position to do.’