‘No powers to enforce social distancing’ in England, police told

Police have been told they have no powers to enforce two-metre social distancing in England.

Fresh guidelines issued by the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs' Council urges officers to only enforce what is written in law, adding that "Government guidance is not enforceable, for example two-metre distancing, avoiding public transport or the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces".

The advice, set out in a document published on Wednesday after being sent out to forces on Tuesday night, follows updated legislation coming into force.

Neither the original Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020 from March 26 nor the amendment enacted at 12.01am on Wednesday address social distancing specifically, so keeping two metres apart in certain circumstances is not a legal requirement.

By contrast, two metre social distancing "is enforceable" by police officers in Wales, the advice says. But Welsh councils, not police forces, are responsible for making sure there is social distancing in workplaces, it adds.

Referring officers to the updated law in England for more information, the notice reiterates: "People are still not allowed to leave or be outside of their homes without a reasonable excuse.

"The regulations update the list of examples of reasonable excuses, but officers' judgement and discretion are key – apply the four 'E's (engage, explain, encourage, enforce)."

The document adds: "Enforcement is a last resort."

Detailing the extension of the list of reasonable excuses and businesses which are now allowed to open – including trips to garden centres, outdoor sports facilities, open countryside and parks, or to meet one member of another household in public, or take part in house viewings if trying to buy or sell a property – it also sets out clearly that "gatherings of three or more people (from different households) are not permitted."

Coronavirus - Wed May 13, 2020
People can now go to garden centres, albeit with restrictions in place (Andrew Matthews/PA)

Going on holiday, including visiting or staying overnight at a holiday home or second home, and visiting the homes of friends and family (except where to protect or care for a vulnerable person), are not considered reasonable excuses, police were told.

Officers were also urged to be aware of differences in legislation in Wales and Scotland, particularly when patrolling towns and villages on the borders and encountering people travelling to outdoor spaces there.

The document said: "Travelling to outdoor spaces in Wales and Scotland for recreation (not exercise) may result in offences being committed in those jurisdictions, and so may not be a reasonable excuse for leaving home."