Police backtrack on searching trolleys - but officers still 'patrol non-essential aisles in supermarkets'

A police chief has rowed back on threats that officers would be checking supermarket trolleys to ensure coronavirus lockdown rules were being followed - but officers in a neighbouring force have been patrolling ‘non-essential’ aisles.

Northamptonshire Police Chief Constable Nick Adderley admitted his language was “clumsy” after his comments at a press conference sparked a backlash and Home Secretary Priti Patel said the suggestion was “not appropriate” and did not follow guidance issued to police.

But despite the row, officers from one force appeared to be patrolling supermarkets and checking ‘non-essential’ aisles, while in South Yorkshire a police officer reportedly scolded a family on their own doorstep for letting their young children play on their lawn.

According to the Daily Mail, the force later apologised for the encounter, which it called “well-intentioned but ill-informed”.

In Durham, police tweeted that people should only be out on their bikes if they had “blue flashing lights” on them.

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The reports come after Northamptonshire Police’s Adderley came under fire after saying his force would consider roadblocks, marshalling supermarkets, and searching through shopping baskets and trolleys if people continued to flout the rules, saying their “three-week grace period” of educating and informing people had ended.

His comments were branded “outrageous” by civil liberties group Big Brother Watch, which compared the measures with a “police state”.

Home Secretary Priti Patel also said that approach was “not the guidance” given to police.

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

“I think though, what we should just say about this weekend, in particular, is the weather is going to be good, it’s Easter, we really do need to all take responsibility here, and it’s not about overreach.”

Adderley later clarified his remarks on a Facebook Q&A, saying: “There has been a really short grab clip of one of the statements I have actually made which has caused a bit of consternation, certainly on social media.

“This is the bit around, are we going to start marshalling supermarkets and checking shopping trolleys and baskets and so on.”

He said he “may have been clumsy in that language” as he went on to read extracts of a briefing he had sent to his force – including instructions “not to carry out basket or trolley searches attempting to ascertain the relevance of the items purchased”.

Police forces have already come under fire for allegedly heavy-handed approaches.

And despite the ongoing row, on Friday a Twitter post by Cambridgeshire Police — which was later removed — said: “Officers visited Tesco Barhill this morning as part of their patrols around supermarkets and green spaces this weekend.

“Good to see everyone was abiding by social distancing measures and the non essential aisles were empty.”

The force later

Police have powers to break up gatherings and fine people breaching lockdown rules, with legislation barring people from leaving their home unless they have a “reasonable excuse”.

That includes buying “basic necessities” such as food and medical supplies, though the law doesn’t stop people from buying certain types of food and drink.

National Police Chiefs Council and the College of Policing guidance says there is no power to “stop and account” – where an officer stops someone and asks where they are going – and says road checks on every vehicle are “disproportionate”.

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