Police quizzing visitors with coffees at South Shields seafront - and warn they will be getting stricter with covid fines

Police have warned the public to expect on-the-spot fines if they are suspected of breaching Covid-19 restrictions, with officers quizzing visitors to the seafront.

Previously, police teams have been instructed to follow the ‘Four Es’ approach to dealing with new rules introduced to combat the coronavirus pandemic, with punishments for rule breaking considered a last resort.

But senior officers now feel confident regulations have been in place long enough that they can proceed more quickly to the enforcement stage and penalty notices.

“People should be well aware of the laws and legislation now,” said Sgt David Stobbs, of Northumbria Police.

Police presence at Sandhaven Beach, South Shields, during the pandemic

“When we’re approaching people now we’re very inclined to move straight to enforcement and issue a fine.

“They know fine well what they can and can’t be doing.

“Recently we’ve had some very good results with large scale breaches, groups gathering and fines being issued, and I believe NP is quite high up for England and Wales in terms of positive enforcement action taken.”

Sgt Stobbs was speaking at a meeting of South Tyneside Council’s Riverside Community Area Forum (CAF) on Tuesday, January 26, which was held by videolink and broadcast via YouTube.

The officer, who is based in South Shields, added: “Covid is our main area of business in the neighbourhood team these days.

“We’re enforcing covid jobs reported to us and attending, but also providing high profile patrolling when we’re on duty down the beachfront.

“[The beachfront] is a high footfall area, with people coming in to walk along with cups of coffee in hand and [we are] talking to people – [asking] where are you from, where have you travelled from today, who’s in your household?

“At this stage we have very much moved on to the fourth E [of our] approach.”

Since March, more than 30,000 fixed penalty notices have been issued in England and Wales for breaches of Covid regulations.

Fines in England start at £200, rising to £10,000 for large gatherings.

And if an incident is thought serious enough for prosecution, courts have the power to order even bigger payouts.

Under the ‘Four E’ system, police are supposed to:

:: Engage with people and ask why they are out

:: Explain the current regulations, with an emphasis on the potential risks to public health and the NHS

:: Encourage them to follow the rules

:: Enforce fines as a last resort if thought necessary

Support your Gazette and become a subscriber today. Enjoy unlimited access to local news, the latest football stories and new puzzles every day. With a digital subscription, you can see fewer ads, enjoy faster load times, and get access to exclusive newsletters and content. Click here to subscribe.