Dorset Police has condemned the actions of protesters who breached lockdown legislation and attended an event in Bournemouth yesterday.
Chief Constable James Vaughan called the protesters ‘selfish’ and said their ‘reckless actions’ come as Dorset faces its highest number of cases since the beginning of the pandemic.
He said: “Our NHS colleagues in Dorset are struggling to cope with the demand being placed upon them and are putting themselves at risk every day to protect the lives of others. The number of people in Dorset’s hospitals battling coronavirus has doubled since New Year’s Eve and it is anticipated we have not yet reached the peak.
“Our county is gripped with infections and yet these irresponsible individuals have ignored what is being asked of them and have left their homes to protest. Shame on them.”
Around a dozen people held a demo outside Bournemouth Town Hall and throughout the town and gardens.
The force said it made ‘repeated attempts’ to talk to the organisers in the days leading up to the protest and discourage them from attending but this was not successful.
This action did however lead to the individuals changing their approach resulting in protesters walking around in smaller groups.
Officers attended the town centre to disrupt the protest and disperse the smaller groups. Three people have been arrested on suspicion of breach of the Covid-19 regulations for failing to provide their details to officers. At least seven fixed penalty notices were issued to individuals for breaching the coronavirus regulations. In addition to this more than ten section 35 dispersal orders were issued.
Mr Vaughan said: “I condemn the actions of these selfish individuals who knowingly flouted the lockdown restrictions to carry out this protest activity. Their reckless actions come at a time when our county is facing its highest number of cases since the beginning of this pandemic.
“Nationally and locally the situation is dire. On Friday alone at least 68,000 people contracted the virus in the UK and tragically 1,325 people died.”
Mr Vaughan said he accepted people had the right to protest but ‘now was not the time’ as ‘people were dying’.
He said: “I want the people of Dorset to know that there is no clear exemption for people to leave home to protest and it will simply not be tolerated. Not only did these people put themselves, their families and the public at risk of infection, they also put our officers at risk while they policed it. I know the vast majority of the public in Dorset support our stance.
“Enough is enough. These people need to stop and recognise the gravity of the situation we are all facing and go home.
“We must not forget the good people of Dorset who are doing their very best, yet again, to follow these stay at home restrictions, protect the NHS and save lives. I fully understand the stresses and strain this third lockdown will have on everyone, but I would like to thank the vast majority of our communities for behaving so responsibly and coming together to protect each other.
“Finally, I would like to say how proud I am of our officers and staff, along with all our emergency service colleagues and other key workers, for all they are doing at this extremely difficult time.”
Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “I fully respect people’s right to protest, which is fully enshrined in our culture and laws. However, we are in an escalating situation and public services have never been so strained. It is completely irresponsible for people to come together to make their protests at this time. I support Dorset Police in their tougher stance. Please stay at home and help us keep Dorset safe.”
Sam Crowe, Director of Public Health for Dorset and BCP Councils, said: “I would like to thank the majority of people across Dorset, Bournemouth Christchurch and Poole who have been following the rules to protect the public’s health, month after month.
“But now is the most risky time of all throughout the whole pandemic, with our hospital services close to being overwhelmed. Infection rates locally have been doubling in less than a week. If this carries on, our hospitals will not be able to cope with caring for those needing life-saving treatment.
“No-one wants to be in a lockdown for the third time but unfortunately this is the only choice we have to constrain coronavirus. I don’t believe that anyone with personal experience of just how seriously ill this virus can make people, would be breaching lockdown willingly. You can have the virus and spread it without having symptoms. Stay at home means exactly that – no-one should be leaving home unless for essential reasons like shopping for food, care or for exercise. This is the only way that we will break transmission and start to bring our coronavirus cases down.”