The Chief Constable of North Yorkshire has made it clear that police are limited in the ways they can deter visitors to York from areas of the north which are in a higher Covid tier.
It comes after police said they had issued a ‘shocking’ number of fines over the past few days.
That lead to a debate as to what did and did not breach legislation.
Those fines were for specific breaches of what is now law – not because people were still travelling across the border from Durham, the East Riding and West Yorkshire.
People in Tier 3 areas have been given guidance not to visit York (Tier 2) but they can’t be fined if they simply ignore that.
But when they get here they have to abide by their tier rules – and if they don’t that’s when the police can take action.
Superintendent Mike Walker, who is leading the North Yorkshire Police response to Covid-19, said officers have handed out over 160 tickets, with the vast majority being issued to Tier 3 residents who visited York to mix and socialise indoors.
This is in clear breach of their restrictions as laid down by law. You are supposed to follow your local Tier rules even when you are in a Tier 2 area.
He had this to say to YorkMix on Monday “We will continue to patrol the city and the wider county and we will be visiting licensed premises and busy shopping areas.
“People very clearly know and understand the risks, they know that this virus is deadly, they will know about the identification of a new strain and know the serious steps the Government has taken in the South East, so there really is no excuse for acting so irresponsibly.
“If you choose to visit the city of York from Tier 3 areas without a justifiable reason to have made your journey – with our extra patrols, chances are you will encounter one of our officers and you’ll be asked about the reason for your visit.”
But even if the reason is just to do a bit of shopping, providing you don’t mingle with those outside your household or support bubble you will have done nothing more than ignore the guidance.
You can’t be fined unless you break the rules covering indoor activities.
Chief Constable’s view
This is something the Chief Constable, Lisa Winward and the Police Fire and Crime Commissioner recognises too.
At the start of December police were carrying out spot checks near Selby talking to people who had crossed over “the border”, from places like Castleford, Leeds and Pontefract.
Julia Mulligan told BBC Look North that she accepted the advice on travel was guidance not the law.
But she said that coming across tiers for a day trip or meal was not appropriate. She said that police could issue fixed penalty notices to people indoors in pubs who were breaking actual law.
For example that would be large groups of people from different households gathering together or visiting someone’s house (ff they are not in your bubble) Something that isn’t allowed in Tier 2.
Wendy Loveday, the York Private Hire Association Chair, has written to the police this week asking why Liverpool is cracking down on out of town taxi drivers coming in from Tier 3 Greater Manchester but not York.
A report in the Liverpool Echo explained that in reality this was for defects in vehicles rather than breaking the spirit of the covid guidelines.
The Chief Constable replied to the open email: “Reading between the lines they have actually run an enforcement operation around uninsured/defective vehicles in relation to taxis which has also assisted with reminding people about the Covid regulations and travel between tiers but I am not sure they have used the Covid regulations as such because travel between tiers is not an offence, it’s just guidance.
“The police have no powers to prevent people from travelling between tiers as it is not covered in the legislation.”
The rules on travel
The UK Government is advising everyone to “walk or cycle where possible, plan ahead and avoid busy times and routes when travelling”.
People are advised against non-essential travel in and out of tier three areas.
There are no laws prohibiting movement between tiers.
However, people travelling to lower tier areas, must continue to follow the rules applicable to their home area.
The regulations state that restrictions apply both within a tier area, and to people who live in that area.
For example, a person living in a tier three area must follow the tier three rules even if they are in a Tier 1 or 2 area.
‘It’s OK we are all in the same hotel’
The issue of people travelling in and out of Tiers is a complicated one.
For example there are many reasons why you can, without a guilty conscience, like work, education, childcare, family emergencies and health care.
A day out and a meal in York for a family or support bubble from say Bradford is not considered in the spirit of the guidance but it’s not illegal if you have a take away meal and just visit the shops here.
Try and sit down indoors and have a scotch egg and a pint and the police will be able to fine you.
Some landlords have already expressed their frustration at the abuse they have had from people from Teesside and Leeds who arrive as part of large groups trying to get alchol.
See the tweet here from here from Shaun Collinge at the Maltings who asked a group of eight out of towners if they were all from the same household “No but we’re all staying in the same hotel” came the reply.
Public reaction is mixed though and like many places with a border, be it with a country or a council district it’s not simple.
Many people see Selby as their main town even though they live in the East Riding around Goole.
It’s the same for people in Stamford Bridge who feel part of York.
The thought of being held up at a police checkpoint while trying to get to Asda or to do your Christmas shopping in York horrifies many and it’s a brave politician who will vote for that!
However there is also much support for tougher measures. Many people would like to see an end to shoppers and drinkers flooding into York from Leeds and the North East during the crisis.
The law and the guidance on Covid is an ever changing thing, just like the virus itself, and full lockdowns are different to Tiers.
It was the law to stay at home in March unless you had a reasonable excuse. What was reasonable was open to question outside of the main prescribed activities like work, health, exercise.
We can expect a number of changes again in 2021 until covid is under control. It’s up to the Government to make decisions about how strict the rules are on non-essential travel and what if any penalties there are.