UK (Sky News)

Coronavirus: Police backtrack after chief threatened to search shoppers’ trolleys

By May 10, 2020 No Comments

Police have been forced to reassure people they will not be searching their shopping trolleys after a chief constable threatened the measure if “we don’t get the compliance we would expect”.

Northamptonshire Police chief constable Nick Adderley prompted criticism after saying his force was “only a few days away” from “marshalling supermarkets and checking the items in baskets and trolleys to see whether it’s a legitimate, necessary item”.

In remarks condemned as “outrageous” by a leading civil liberties campaigner, he also warned roadblocks would be set up if members of the public did not adhere to government guidelines designed to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Based on current COVID-19 legislation, officers would have no legal basis to search shopping baskets.

And within hours of his comments in a news conference being reported, the force’s official Twitter account moved to contradict him.

“To clarify some suggestions made in the media, we absolutely will NOT be searching people’s shopping trolleys in Northamptonshire,” it said.

“The same message was communicated to our officers from the very moment we were given these new powers.”

The message came in response to a tweet from the chief constable in which he appeared to contradict his own words and failed to acknowledge his threat of police action in supermarkets.

“I will keep reiterating the position, we will NOT be searching trolleys or baskets and we will not be determining what is and isn’t an essential item,” he said.

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“The point I was making was around the necessity of the journey” and he said on social media he may have been “clumsy” in his language.

Mr Adderley had earlier said at a news conference that a “three-week grace period” was now over in his county.

“I really need to emphasise the point, this is about saving people’s lives, this is the really serious end of what we do,” he said.

“If things don’t improve, and we don’t get the compliance we would expect, then the next stage will be road blocks and it will be stopping people to ask why they are going, where they’re going.

“This is about reasonableness and if people are not reasonable in terms of the journeys and the trips they are taking, they are going to fall foul of the law.

“We will not, at this stage, be setting up road blocks. We will not, at this stage, start to marshal supermarkets and checking the items in baskets and trolleys to see whether it’s a legitimate, necessary item.

“But again, be under no illusion, if people do not heed the warnings and the pleas I’m making today, we will start to do that.”

Home Secretary Priti Patel also appeared to knock down Mr Adderley’s comments, saying measures such as roadblocks and searching trolleys were “not appropriate”.

“That’s not appropriate, let me be clear about that,” she told Talk Radio. “That is not the guidance, that is not down to the measures we’ve been adopting thus far.”

Ms Patel insisted she was “absolutely not” considering tougher coronavirus lockdown conditions.

She added: “I’ll be very candid. Not everybody’s going to get this right and it has taken a couple of weeks for these measures to bed in because this has been unprecedented, don’t forget.

“But this is not about heavy-handed law enforcement. I think I really must emphasise that. There’s a balance to this.

“I do pay credit to the police because these are extraordinary times.”

Mr Adderley’s comments were compared to those of a police state by Big Brother Watch.

Director Silkie Carlo said: “The suggestion of police rummaging through people’s shopping trolleys is outrageous.

“It would be completely disproportionate for police to start investigating shopping baskets or stopping every car at road checks, and there’s no legal basis for them to do so.”

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Experts have previously pointed to “grey areas” that exist between government guidelines and the lack of police enforcement powers created by coronavirus legislation.

Other forces have also been accused of overreaching their powers, with one saying it had ordered people to court after they were caught “driving due to boredom”.

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