More than 2,500 fines handed out for breaching Covid laws in West Mercia and Mid Wales

More than 2,500 fines have been handed out by police for breaching Covid-19 laws in West Mercia and Mid Wales since they came into force, new figures show.

Home Secretary Priti Patel has defended the policing of lockdown breaches across the country, warning that officers “will not hesitate” to take action to safeguard the national recovery effort.

Data published by the National Police Chiefs Council shows a total of 748 fixed penalty notices (FPNs) were issued by West Mercia Police between March 27 and December 20.

Of these, 240 were issued for breaches of coronavirus laws brought in during the first few months of the pandemic, 61 were linked to the tiered alert system introduced in October, and 198 to the national lockdown which began in November.

Dyfed-Powys Police issued 1,784 FPNs in the same period, mostly for breaches of coronavirus laws first introduced in March.

Fines were handed out for failing to wear a face covering when required, breaching international travel rules, breaking business regulations and for gatherings held of more than 30 people.

West Mercia Police and Crime Commissioner John Campion said it is a matter for the Government whether lockdown restrictions are tightened any further but has been reassured the region's police force will take action against rule breakers.

He added: "Here in Shropshire I think people are largely doing what they should be doing.

"We've seen additional patrols and changes in the ways police are working. We have seen greater visibility.

"We have seen a programme around education, engagement and encouragement, with enforcement being the last resort.

"There are small amounts of people who are breaching the rules. That's where enforcement comes in."

North Wales Police has also warned those breaching restrictions are increasingly likely to face fines.

Playground

It comes following a busy weekend where officers reported a 'substantial amount' of people for breaching restrictions on non-essential travel.

Shrewsbury Town Council has urged the public to be sensible and follow guidelines amid concerns at the number of people using the Quarry and its children's play area.

Town clerk Helen Ball said that if parents and carers are not more strict on sticking to the rules then they may be forced to close the playground.

She said: "We have found with the Quarry in particular, if you went in there last weekend you would never have known we are in a national stay-at-home lockdown.

"I think there is a borderline between, are people exercising or are they mainly socialising and using exercise as the reason for that.

"We have also had a number of residents using the Quarry for exercise raising concern about the number of children using the playground and saying that it is irresponsible of the town council to keep playgrounds open when schools have closed because of the risk of transmission."

Mrs Ball said they had consulted public health officials and considered the health and wellbeing benefits of keeping play areas open currently outweigh the risk of transmission.

But she said that if people do not make sure they are socially distanced when using the play area - and sanitise after using equipment - then they will consider closure.

She added: "It is a real sort of plea to the public, the Quarry is not the only place you can go and exercise. It is not the only play area in the town. There are 50 play areas in the town and dozens of other open spaces where people can get their exercise and we urge people to be sensible about it and if there are excessive people in the location to go somewhere else instead."

Meanwhile, Cheshire Constabulary last weekend issued 58 FPNs as a result of blatant breaches of the rules.

In comparison, 21 FPNs were issued across the county in December.

Most of these reports related to parties and gatherings.

A number of vehicles were also stopped carrying multiple occupants who were not from the same household or the Cheshire area and were travelling without a reasonable excuse.

Police forces across England and Wales have issued 32,329 FPNs since March, though the NPCC said there had been a downward trend in recent weeks.

The peak occurred during the Easter bank holiday in April.

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