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Police ask sunbathers to stay away and spend Easter indoors

Labour chair calls for 'rota system' for park use

09 April, 2020 — By Bronwen Weatherby

POLICE  and council chiefs are urging people to spend a lockdown Easter indoors as they try to stop groups gathering in parks and meeting friends.

While some smaller parks were relatively quiet over the weekend, and the City of London appeared fairly encouraged with the lighter use of Hampstead Heath, officers said they were “disappointed” by the number of people on Primrose Hill on Saturday.

These included sunbathers, people with picnics and those who appeared to be meeting up with friends, police said.

The Royal Parks, which manages both Primrose Hill and Regent’s Park, has already warned it will have to shut the open spaces if too many people head there during the nationwide restrictions on movement.

Under government orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, people are only allowed to leave home for essential shopping, one form of exercise a day and journeys to work. Those living in the same house are allowed out together, while exercising, but police took exception to people lying down in the sun.

The scene on Primrose Hill on Saturday

Police borough commander Chief Superintendent Raj Kohli said his teams are concerned about what the next few days may see.

“This long weekend will be unlike any l have ever policed so please don’t go out for a picnic, please don’t go out just to meet your friends,” he said.

“The parks and open spaces are there for people to exercise, not to picnic and sunbathe. Those activities are really not essential.  A vast bulk of people are pragmatically following the guidelines. Even on Saturday most, if not almost all, the people we spoke to did understand and did move on. The trouble is, behind them came other people and we had to go and have the same conversation again.”

He added: ‘The guidelines are straightforward and whether people agree with the guidelines is not the point. The rules were put in place to stop our NHS from falling over and I think people forget that. The Prime Minister is unwell and that might help some people to think more closely about whether what they are doing is essential. We’ll do what we’ve always been doing which is engaging people and persuading them not to breach the directions.”

Photos taken by the police caused uproar on social media with those stuck inside reacting with anger and incredulity; the Good Morning Britain presenter Piers Morgan had shared a New Journal online story about it with his seven million followers on Twitter.

The critics, however, have been reminded that not everybody has gardens or balconies to use.

Sagal Abdi-Wali

Sagal Abdi-Wali, the chair of the Holborn and St Pancras Labour Party, said: “Fact is, for many living in crammed spaces, going to a park is essential, especially for families with small kids.” She added: “Let’s stop shaming people without knowing their circumstance. Let’s start a rota system.”

Camden is ramping up its messaging ahead of Easter to try and keep people away from grouping in parks. There is a particular concern that younger groups are not listening.

“There are some people, who, for whatever reason, aren’t hearing the message,” said council leader Cllr Georgia Gould. “We’re all neighbours, all part of this community, so anything that anyone can do to talk people around them and just remind them how important it is to stay home is helpful.”

Police in Hampstead said they issued “dispersal notices” but the majority of people were using the Heath responsibly.

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