Police issue stark warning to 'deeply irresponsibly' people who ignore lockdown rules to socialise at The Stray in Harrogate
Police armed with new powers to enforce the coronavirus lockdown have issued a stark warning to those who snub social distancing rules to meet up with friends at The Stray.
Officers have been patrolling Harrogate looking to break up lockdown louts with threats of arrest or fines of up to £60 for those who breach social distancing guidelines.
But despite the heavy-handed warnings, groups of people have still been spotted playing sports and socialising at Harrogate's iconic beauty spot.
A North Yorkshire Police spokesman said: "Blatantly ignoring the current social distancing rules and gathering at locations such as The Stray is deeply irresponsibly given the national emergency that we are all facing.
"Action will be taken against those who are increasing the chances of coronavirus spreading in our communities."
The police force has stepped up patrols across all of Harrogate's popular beauty spots - and officers are also randomly stopping motorists to check that their journey is essential.
This comes after police were last week given powers to tell people to go home or disperse an area - and those who refuse could be issued with a fixed penalty notice of £60, which will be lowered to £30 if paid within 14 days.
Second-time offenders will then be issued a fixed penalty notice of £120, doubling on each further repeat offence. Those who do not pay the penalty can be taken to court, with magistrates able to impose unlimited fines.
And the threat of those powers seems to have sent out a strong message, with some popular spots in the district reporting a significant drop in visitor numbers.
Before the weekend and with hopes to discourage visitors, the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority had repeated the government's advice for people to stay at home and not travel to the countryside for any non-essential reason.
Speaking afterwards on Sunday, David Butterworth, the National Park Authority’s Chief Executive, said: “This weekend saw a dramatic change in behaviour with the park being very quiet. It was clear that government advice was being followed - with people staying home and avoiding all unnecessary travel - and we’re very grateful for that, thank you.
"North Yorkshire appears to have been more fortunate than other areas so far with the impact of the virus, but it may get more difficult in the future. If we follow government and medical advice, we can get through this terrible time - together as a community."
Officers from Harrogate's Neighbourhood Policing Team last week said they had to explain to a "large number" of people at reservoirs and other beauty spots that their actions were putting lives at risk.
One motorist who was stopped by officers said they driving through the Yorkshire Dales “for some fresh air”, North Yorkshire Police said.
In a blunt message to the public, Richard Flinton, Chief Executive of North Yorkshire County Council and Chairman of the North Yorkshire Local Resilience Forum, warned that the more people travel unnecessarily the more lives will be lost.
He said: “We cannot urge people strongly enough to follow the Government ruling on travel. People need to stay at home because if you travel further than you should, this will only serve to accelerate the rate of infection and more people will die.
“If people want to walk and exercise they need to do this from their own front door, once a day for a limited period, observing social distancing and keeping two metres away from anybody they are not living with.
“The message from government and from all the agencies who care for people in North Yorkshire could not be clearer. We need to protect our communities and if we have an influx of visitors travelling to the coast and beauty spots as last weekend more lives will be lost.
“These are grave and extremely challenging times and we must all play our part in meeting the challenges in the right way.”
By Jacob Webster, Local Democracy Reporter
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