Police 'don't have power to enter peoples' homes to break up Christmas gatherings', says legal expert

·Freelance Writer
·4 min read
A woman wearing a face mask walks past Christmas lights outside a department store in central London. A new three-tier system of alert levels for England has been implemented following rising coronavirus cases and hospital admissions. (Photo by Dominic Lipinski/PA Images via Getty Images)
A woman wearing a face mask walks past Christmas lights outside a department store in central London. (Getty)

Police who attempt to break up family Christmas gatherings that break coronavirus lockdown restrictions have no power to do so, a legal expert has stated.

With many parts of England now under tiered restrictions that ban separate households from mixing indoors, West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson said officers would investigate reports of rule-breaking over the festive period.

He told The Telegraph: “If we think there's large groups of people gathering where they shouldn't be, then police will have to intervene.

“If, again, there's flagrant breaking of the rules, then the police would have to enforce.”

However, human rights lawyer Adam Wagner dismissed the warning, saying police “have no power of entry under the Tier 2 (or 1 and 3) regulations”.

He tweeted: “They would have to be invited into homes to exercise their power to disperse gatherings. Or have a warrant.”

‘Far too early’

It comes as the government was urged by politicians from all four nations in the UK – including Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey – to standard lockdown rules for the whole country at Christmas, to allow people to visit their loved ones.

But environment secretary George Eustice said this morning it was “far too early” to set out guidelines about Christmas – and suggested the government is prepared to prevent large families meeting.

Watch: ‘Too early to say’ how Britons will be able to celebrate Christmas

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “This is a rapidly developing situation and we are making judgements all the time about what restrictions might be needed and what’s appropriate to have as restrictions in a particular area.

“It’s far too early to say exactly where things will be by Christmas, but the prime minister’s made clear he wants people to be able to have a Christmas that’s as close to possible as normal.”

Rejecting demands from the Liberal Democrats to plan coronavirus restrictions up to the Christmas period now, Eustice acknowledged that families living under different tiers may not be allowed to meet on Christmas Day.

He added: “We should set our guidelines, not as the Lib Dems say based on Christmas is coming, we should set our guidelines based on the epidemiology of this virus and follow the science and respond to emerging situations in a proportionate way.”

His comments come after BBC presenter Victoria Derbyshire apologised on Tuesday for saying she would break the rule of six if it was still in place by Christmas.

Eustice said mixing between families who live in areas with different tier restrictions is “not provided for currently”, suggesting they would not be able to meet on Christmas Day.

Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs George Eustice returns to Downing Street in central London after attending weekly Cabinet meeting at the Foreign Office on 20 October, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by WIktor Szymanowicz/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
Environment secretary George Eustice suggested the government would stop large families meeting at Christmas. (Getty)

‘Save Christmas’

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said the government’s failure to use the half-term for a circuit-breaker lockdown means they now need to “do something quickly to save Christmas”.

Speaking on Times Radio this morning, Ashworth said government sources are planning for a Tier 3 lockdown in most areas of the country “at some point in November”.

Christmas family gatherings are at risk under current lockdown guidelines. (Getty/posed by models)
Christmas family gatherings are at risk under current lockdown guidelines. (Getty/posed by models)

When asked if he thought families would be able to meet in groups of more than six on Christmas Day, Ashworth said: “That’s in the hands of all of us, and in the hands of the decisions it (the government) makes in the next week or so about what they’re going to do to get on top of this virus.

“I think because they’ve missed this window of opportunity over the half-term, I’m worried now that what we’ll see is deeper, more drastic lockdown action over November and December, which sadly probably does put Christmas at risk.”

A sign outside a pub advertises a Christmas venue in London on October 21, 2020, as the government considers further lockdown measures to combat the rise in novel coronavirus COVID-19 cases. - Britain has suffered Europe's worst death toll from coronavirus, with nearly 44,000 deaths within 28 days of a positive test result. After a summer lull, cases are rising again as in other parts of the continent -- and so are deaths, with 241 reported on Tuesday alone. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP) (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
A sign outside a pub advertises a Christmas venue in London. (Getty)

‘Wishful thinking’

Professor John Edmunds, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said last week that “radical action” is needed if families are to see each other on Christmas Day.

“He added: “The only way that we can have a relatively safe and normal Christmas is if we take radical action now to reduce incidence – at the very least in high-incidence areas – and keep the incidence low across the country by implementing a package of measures to reduce social contacts.

“The notion that we can carry on as we are and have a Christmas that we can celebrate normally with friends and family is wishful thinking in the extreme.”

Watch: What is long COVID?

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