Police warn of Covid risks after dispersing park crowds

Tom Pilgrim, PAFri, 12 February 2021, 7:21 pm

Police have warned the public of the Covid risks posed by large crowds after hundreds of people gathered to go sledging or drink in parks this week.

Officers responded to busy scenes in Middlesbrough and Newcastle, while police in Leicester also cracked down on a “pop-up pub”.

Cleveland Police said they received reports of “hundreds” of people visiting Flatts Lane Country Park in Middlesbrough for sledging on Wednesday, with large numbers of parked cars causing an obstruction.

Police said they were told that vehicles were being “abandoned dangerously on a busy main road”, which they warned could have caused a collision.

There was also a report of a fight, with someone reportedly seen with a knife.

In a Facebook post on Thursday, Cleveland Police said they sympathised with the public, but two hours of police time was spent trying to get people to move vehicles and leave the area for their own safety.

The post added: “People are allowed to exercise in the local area, but we would ask that they have due consideration when there are large numbers of people in the same location, and the risks this could pose.

“We have been in a worldwide pandemic for almost a year now, and we all know that we have a part to play in keeping people safe and stopping the spread of the virus.

“The sheer volume of people in the park yesterday could have put people at risk.”

The force said officers had a largely “positive” engagement with the public and only one person was issued with a fixed penalty notice for refusing to leave the area after he became abusive towards officers.

Under lockdown rules in England, people are only allowed to leave home if they have a “reasonable excuse” to do so, such as shopping for essentials or permitted childcare.

People should limit outdoor exercise to once per day, which can be taken alone, with their household, or one person they do not live with.

Leaving home for recreational or leisure purposes , such as for a picnic or a social meeting, is not allowed.

Police can issue fines of up to £10,000 for organised gatherings.

A spokeswoman for the National Police Chiefs’ Council said it was up to officers on the ground to make assessments of situations and decide how to apply regulations.

Cleveland Police’s Inspector Tony Cross told the BBC the crowds at Flatts Lane Country Park had taken up “a lot of resources”, with officers left “outnumbered”.

Meanwhile, Northumbria Police said they dispersed crowds of young adults drinking and socialising at Town Moor in Newcastle on Thursday.

A force spokesman said officers had attended the park throughout the day after reports of “large crowds” the previous night.

ChronicleLive reported that footage from Wednesday showed revellers standing on the top of Cow Hill drinking and playing music.

One witness told the website there was “a good 300” people present and “no social distancing”.

Commenting on activities on Thursday, the Northumbria Police spokesman said the majority of people “were made up of young families who remained in their households and behaved in a responsible manner”.

He added: “However, as we moved into the evening we did become aware of large crowds, primarily consisting of young adults, who were drinking and socialising in similar scenes to Wednesday.

“A large number of officers were deployed to the Moor to disperse these crowds and there were no further issues throughout the evening.

“We do not believe this to have been an organised gathering but this type of behaviour is completely unacceptable and undermines the efforts of the majority of people in our region who are making daily sacrifices to prevent the spread of coronavirus.”

No fines were issued and no arrests were made, the force said.

Leicestershire Police said they fined seven men after officers discovered a “pop-up pub”, complete with a bar, large screen television and a pool table, inside premises on Morris Road, Leicester on Wednesday.

Officers went to the site as Leicester City’s FA cup match against Brighton & Hove Albion kicked off.

The television was connected to a Sky box and alcohol was being consumed, but no money appeared to be being exchanged, the force said.

Sergeant Ben Widdowson said: “Gatherings such as this puts the lives of you, your family, your friends and people in your community at risk.”