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Ministers back crackdown on lockdown law breakers

POLICE have been given the go-ahead to get tough on lockdown breaches after arresting two women they said were in a flash mob filming a protest stunt.

As another 563 coronavirus deaths took Britain’s toll to more than 81,000, more than a million people on social media saw the middle-aged pair seized as one sat on a bench and another walked on Bournemouth seafront.

At first, the video fuelled claims police were over-reacting, days after another force apologised for fining two friends as they walked together.

But Dorset police said: ‘We believe this video was planned, stage-managed and recorded by members of the protest group who turned up in multiple areas, several of whom refused to engage or provide their details.’ Asst Ch Con Mark Callaghan said: ‘We are further astonished by the fact that a number of the group were identified to have travelled considerably from out of the Dorset area.

‘It was clear the group were deliberately organising their activities, walking around in twos then trying to come together in a flash mob-style approach.

‘Those who were arrested had earlier engagement and were warned by officers,’ he added.

Crackdowns were backed by health secretary Matt Hancock (pictured) who said: ‘Absolutely I’m going to back the police. The challenge here is that every flex can be fatal.

‘You might look at the rules and think, “Well it doesn’t matter that much if I just do this or that.” But the rules are not boundaries to be pushed — they’re the limit of what people should be doing.’

And home secretary Priti Patel said police ‘will not hesitate’ to enforce the new rules with fines of up to £10,000 for the worst offenders. She said: ‘There is still a need for strong enforcement where people are clearly breaking these rules.

‘Enforcing these rules saves lives. It is as simple as that. Officers will continue to engage with the public across the country and will not hesitate to take action when necessary.’

Saturday’s arrests came on the first weekend of England’s third national lockdown. The video — filmed near Bournemouth’s historic pier — showed a woman in tears as she is confronted by police while walking with an elderly man.

‘At the moment you’re allowed out for exercise once a day,’ an officer tells her. ‘You’ve been filmed today in the town centre and around here and walking up and down.’

Accused of breaking rules on social distancing, the woman tells officers: ‘I was sat on a bench having a cup of coffee. That is not anti-social.’

The camera moves to another woman being led away in handcuffs. ‘I was sitting on a bench,’ she says as a bystander shouts ‘f***ing tyranny’ and ‘choose your side’ at officers.

As she is led away, the first woman appears to be placed in handcuffs.

The new rules criminalise meeting family or friends unless they are part of your household or support bubble.

Homes can be left for exercise once a day — and not for recreation or leisure.

After the arrests, Dorset Ch Con James Vaughan said his officers ‘put themselves at risk every day to protect the lives of others’.

He said three people were arrested for failing to provide details, seven got fixed penalty notices and at least ten were handed dispersal orders.

‘Our county is gripped with infections and yet these irresponsible individuals have ignored what is being asked of them and have left their homes to protest,’ he added.

‘Shame on them. Enough is enough.’

On Friday, Derbyshire police fined friends Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore £200 each for driving seven miles for a socially distanced walk at a reservoir, telling them their cups of Starbucks tea classified the trip as a ‘picnic’.

But the force later said new guidance meant it would review fines.

The rules say stay at home unless for…

■ Work — where it is unreasonable for you to do your job from home
■ Volunteering or charitable services
■ Essential shopping for yourself or others
■ Education and childcare
■ Visiting people in your support bubble
■ Exercise alone or with just one other person once a day
■ Medical reasons
■ Domestic abuse
■ Visiting someone who is dying OR in a care home, hospice or hospital
■ Going to the vet
■ Going to church
■ Selling or renting a house
■ Weddings/funerals