POLICE forces have been accused of taking a heavy-handed approach to enforcing new coronavirus regulations.

Former Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption accused Derbyshire Police, which filmed walkers at a Peak District beauty spot and posted the footage online, of acting disgracefully.

Wiltshire Police has not taken as a hard a line as other forces. As of Monday afternoon, county officers were yet to issue a single fixed penalty notice to those caught flouting Coronavirus Act rules. However, police have closed car parks at beauty spots across Wiltshire.

Read more: How is Wiltshire Police gearing up to tackle coronavirus?

Police across England have been accused of going beyond the regulations, stopping cars and issuing scores of fines. Warrington Police posted online that six people had been summonsed to court for offences relating to the new coronavirus laws.

Lord Sumption, a former Supreme Court judge, told the BBC: "The tradition of policing in this country is that policemen are citizens in uniform, they are not members of a disciplined hierarchy operating just at the government's command."

"The police have no power to enforce ministers' preferences but only legal regulations which don't go anything like as far as the government's guidance.”

He added: "I have to say that the behaviour of Derbyshire Police in trying to shame people into using their undoubted right to travel to take exercise in the country and wrecking beauty spots in the fells so people don't want to go there is frankly disgraceful.

"This is what a police state is like. It's a state in which the government can issue orders or express preferences with no legal authority and the police will enforce ministers' wishes.

"I have to say that most police forces have behaved in a thoroughly sensible and moderate fashion. Derbyshire Police have shamed our policing traditions."

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Widely-followed Twitter account The Secret Barrister pointed to one social media post by Warrington police boasting that six people had been summonsed for various alleged offences including going out for a drive due to boredom and returning from parties.

The Secret Barrister tweeted: “There is nothing in the legislation that prohibits multiple people from the same household going to the shops. Nor is there a bar on going out to buy ‘non-essential items’.

“Such things may not be desirable, but they are not crimes.”

What do the regulations say?

Restrictions on movement is covered by section six of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) Regulations 2020.

It says that during the emergency period no person may leave where they are living without reasonable excuse.

There are 13 subsections defining what reasonable excuse means. They include taking exercise alone or with another member of your household, buying essential supplies (including for the maintenance and upkeep of your home) and to escape injury or harm.

Swindon Advertiser:

There is no mention in the regulations of not being allowed to drive to take exercise. Nor, interestingly, is there a restriction in the regulations about the number of times you are allowed out of the house every day to exercise or the type of exercise you take.

What’s Wiltshire Police saying?

A Wiltshire Police spokesman said yesterday: “At the moment our focus here in Wiltshire is on engagement with our communities, explaining to them the importance of adhering to the rules around social distancing and encouraging people to cooperate with the authorities.

“Of course, if necessary, we will use enforcement, but we are hopeful that the vast majority of our residents understand that the restrictions have been put in place to protect the public, particularly the most vulnerable in our society.”

The force produced a flyer last week which officers have been leaving on cars across the county. It says: “The government restrictions currently in place DO NOT permit you to use your vehicle to travel to this location to exercise.”

It adds: “You are entitled to exercise once daily. This should be by walking, running or cycling etc from your home address.”

We asked Wiltshire Police last week to explain where in the government regulations it said people were not allowed to travel away from home in order to take their exercise. The force is yet to respond.