I thought I’d take advantage of the lovely settled weather over the Easter weekend by heading down to the coast to go fishing for a plaice or two. Not only were the conditions ideal but the beach that I intended to visit is isolated. I doubt whether another human being would have been within half a mile of me. Yet a quick telephone call to a friend in the area revealed this would not be possible. The unmarked track that I wished to drive down had been sealed off by the police and a big sign erected with the instruction: “No fishing.”
In recent days, we’ve also learned that the police and army will be conducting sweeps along south coast beaches to prevent anybody from going to them. I find this deeply ironic. For the fact is there is still one easy access route to southern England’s coastline: by travelling illegally from Calais in a small dinghy.
Those who are determined enough to take this route simply discard their passport and claim to be an Iranian or Afghan national. With flat seas, they only have to make it a few miles across the Channel before they will be picked up by the UK Border Force and brought safely into Dover. Despite the camp they have just left very probably being contaminated with Covid-19, these individuals are allowed to remain in the UK without even necessarily being placed into quarantine.
In the last week, it was reported that Border Force officers intercepted 130 people making this hazardous journey over five consecutive days. None was tested for coronavirus. Then in Dover on Saturday, a deep-clean decontamination had to be conducted in an area of the port after one of the small boats brought into harbour by the Border Force contained two sick individuals displaying the classic coronavirus symptoms. The most extraordinary thing is that none of this even makes the news, so commonplace has it become.
How can such a glaring inconsistency exist when the Government expects to secure continued public support for the lockdown – particularly when elements of the police force are so heavy-handed? Frankly, I am beginning to wonder if some officers are actively enjoying wielding their newly minted powers. A few days ago I asked a technician to come to my house to help me set up my home recording studios – an essential tool for me as a broadcaster. He was too scared to come and carry out this work, fearing the police might stop him and make him turn around for a journey they might decide to class “non-essential”. This is proof that the threat of police action has seeped into some people’s psyches to such a degree that they would rather sacrifice their livelihood than risk an encounter with a policeman.
Just consider how appallingly certain policemen have behaved this month. The chief constable of Northamptonshire Police, Nick Adderley, seemed to positively lick his lips at the prospect of putting up road blocks and checking shopping baskets for “non-essential” items. And in another example of utter boneheadedness that will nonetheless have made most voters and taxpayers seethe with anger, officers from Cambridgeshire Police boasted of having patrolled the “non-essential aisles” of a branch of Tesco in Barhill and declared themselves “pleased” to have found them empty of shoppers.
Such actions have nothing to do with stopping the spread of Covid-19. They relate only to the exercise of power. More accurately, they reflect the abuse of power as exercised by some petty officials. Granted, these examples may sound relatively trivial, but we must all remember that fundamental changes often occur gradually before they happen suddenly.
While there are some people in this country who will accept and support the official line being spun that all of this is for our own good, and that the state is our protector, I am not one of them. I had my own brush with the police recently. As I drove along a section of dual carriageway with a speed limit of 30mph, I saw a figure wearing a yellow jacket in the distance. I slowed right down, guessing this person must be a solitary policeman with a speed gun. As I drove past him along this empty road, I shook my head as if to say “Haven’t you got better things to do?” In return, he aggressively pointed three fingers at me, indicating, presumably, that he would give me three penalty points for driving too slowly.
I am the privately educated son of a stockbroker. I am middle England. If my feelings towards some of our police forces and, in particular, their bosses now verge on contempt, I am certain I am not alone. Yes, I do want to fight this horrible disease. Indeed, I was one of the first people to condemn publicly the Government’s herd immunity strategy. But I do not want to live under a house detention regime or for this country to be remoulded into a police state.
Boris Johnson has now left hospital, news which has certainly brightened up Easter. When he is fully recovered, I expect to see a gradual easing of the lockdown. I fear, however, that the arbitrary powers now given to the police may remain in place for a long time to come. Why? Because I can envisage the argument being advanced by the police that many of their powers must be retained in case another pandemic strikes.
I think I have just found my next campaign.