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April 24, 2020 2:23 PM
By Kate Smith

Kate Smith PCC Candidate

As the Coronavirus crisis escalates, Derbyshire Police have come under fire for their attempts to reduce public access to open spaces for leisure. Two areas in High Peak have been in the spotlight: Snake Pass and the "Blue Lagoon" off Harpur Hill, Buxton. Lib Dem Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) candidate Kate Smith says it's important to balance public health with civil liberties.

Says PCC Candidate Kate, "I don't know of a Police force that is finding this easy. One difficulty is that the Coronavirus Act specifies that daily exercise near home is permitted, but not for how long or whether driving there is acceptable - whereas the Government guidelines have more to say but are only guidelines. Clearly mistakes will be made at times; all forces are feeling their way.

"But", continues Kate, "There are several things going on here. One is a Government which has summarily taken draconian powers on itself which should be subject to very frequent review (every 2 weeks not 3-6 months) and then stood Parliament down for a crucial month of non-scrutiny. This is in no way acceptable, and as Alastair Carmichael MP has said, we must find a way of running Parliament so that such scrutiny is possible.

"A second is that Policing relies on public consent. If people want to drive to the Peak District, they will. Officers have to Enquire, Engage and Explain before Enforcing, or they lose our support.

"Thirdly, front-line officers need the support and respect of everyone at this extremely difficult time, and we need to help them ensure we come out of it as a stronger society with more commitment to human rights." Kate reserves her real criticism for the current PCC, Hardyal Dhindsa. "Our Derbyshire force came under fire, and the Chief Constable Peter Goodman was forced to defend it. He did it well, but where was the PCC himself - on holiday ? He should have taken the flak."

(1) The "Blue Lagoon" is part of a disused quarry, where because of the type of rock and dumping, the water is caustic and dangerous, with a pH level of over 11. Local Police have been discouraging its use for swimming by the public, including with a black dye which is harmless. This tactic is unrelated to Coronavirus, has been going on for 7 years and is quite successful. Some would say it is environmentally bad, but at this level of alkalinity no normal life form would survive.

(2) Officers attended Snake Pass, where people had driven from areas as far away as Sheffield, Manchester and even Ipswich. Drone footage clearly shows lack of distancing and, in one case, a well attended shisha gathering. The drone usage has been criticised - though it too has been, in the main, successful ("after" shots show Snake Pass deserted).

(Derbyshire isn't alone; a Welsh force has been in the news over use of a drone delivering dispersal messages in town centres.)