Police can use number plate recognition to enforce Welsh travel ban – Drakeford

Police in Wales could use number plate technology to catch people from UK coronavirus hotspots who illegally enter the country, the First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford said having officers patrol highways is one way to enforce a proposed travel ban on visits to Wales by people living in areas of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland with high levels of Covid-19 from Friday.

The Welsh Labour leader’s comments came after the Police Federation of England and Wales said the travel restrictions are “unenforceable” due to the difficulty of identifying where people were travelling to and from.

On Thursday, Mr Drakeford told BBC Breakfast: “I believe the police will have a range of techniques that they will be able to use.

“Number plates are one of the ways in which they are able to identify cars that are travelling long distances, but that won’t be the only way.

“They will have long-practice techniques developed earlier in the year, and they will apply those again over the weeks to come.”

The developed practices Mr Drakeford referred to came during Wales’s “stay local” rule earlier in the pandemic, where travel was restricted to no more than five miles within Wales unless for a reasonable excuse.

Those who breached the rules faced being fined an initial £60 by police, with regular instances flagged up by Wales’s four police forces of travellers from England being issued with the penalties.

National Police Chiefs’ Council figures published after the five-mile rule ended in July showed that out of the 281 fines issues in North Wales, 81 involved local residents while 188 involved visitors from England.

HEALTH Coronavirus
HEALTH Coronavirus

The English areas which had the highest proportion of offenders were Merseyside, the West Midlands, Cheshire, and Greater Manchester.

Mr Drakeford said fines are “the last resort, not the first resort”, with officers in the first instance explaining the rules and turning vehicles around.

He said he has discussed his plans with Wales’s police chiefs.

He added: “Most people will be very happy to comply with those rules. If there are a minority of people who knowingly and flagrantly breach the law, then fixed-penalty notices will have to be applied to them.”

Mark Bleasdale, the Police Federation of England and Wales’s Welsh lead, said on Wednesday that the proposed ban would add “yet another level of complexity to policing” to his “over-stretched” colleagues.

“On the face of it, this is unenforceable because of the difficulty of identifying where people are coming from and where they are going to,” he said.

“There will also be plenty of individuals travelling legitimately from areas which are not high risk, and this will only add to the other difficulties officers face when policing the existing regulations.”

Meanwhile, Welsh health minister Vaughan Gething said it is “still not too late” for Boris Johnson to agree to Mr Drakeford’s request to impose UK-wide travel restrictions, to which the PM is yet to formally reply to.

“We would much rather have had an agreed way forward on this, but that ball isn’t in our court,” Mr Gething said.

“The First Minister of Scotland and the response in Northern Ireland has been rather more positive. It’s still not too late for the Prime Minister to want to have a grown-up, four nations conversation on this subject.”