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Police in Forest of Dean send group of seven mountain bikers back to Wales for lockdown rule breaches

Coronavirus measures in Wales forbid people from leaving country – but police in England have no power to enforce regulations

Police in the Forest of Dean have told a group of seven cyclists who were visiting a popular mountain biking facility to return home to Caerphilly. While police did not clarify whether the men were members of the same household, but the size of the group appears to contravene coronavirus regulations in England. Moreover, by travelling across the border the cyclists would also have breached laws applying in Wales – although police in England have no powers to enforce them.

The beauty spot in Gloucestershire is maintained by Forestry England, which says on its website that people should “Only visit one of our forests for your daily exercise if it is only a short distance from your home.”

Forest Police, the unit of Gloucestershire Constabulary that covers the communities of Newent, Cinderford, Coleford, Lydney, Tidenham and Sedbury, confirmed on Twitter that the cyclists had been told to make the 45-mile journey back to their home town.

They said: “Officers have advised seven males attending Cannop Cycle Centre today to return home to Caerphilly, should they be found in the area again during lockdown they will be fined!”

England and Wales have separate regulations in force regarding restrictions relating to COVID-19.

Within England, exercise outside the home can only be taken:

alone,

with—

(aa) one or more members of their household, their linked household, or

(bb) where exercise is being taken as part of providing informal childcare for a child aged 13 or under, one or more members of their linked childcare household, or

in a public outdoor place, with one other person who is not a member of their household, their linked household or their linked childcare household.

The legislation does not place restrictions on the distance that can be travelled to undertake exercise, although government guidance – which does not have the force of law – is that exercise “should be limited to once per day, and you should not travel outside your local area.”

Despite the lack of clarity in the wording of the regulations, it’s clear that some police forces are imposing their own interpretation – witness the press coverage in recent days of the two women fined £200 each for travelling five miles to take a walk together, penalties that the force is now reviewing all fixed penalty notices (FPNs) it has issued, in the light of guidance from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC).

BBC News reports that the NPCC has "clarified the policing response concerning travel and exercise."

According to the guidance: “The Covid regulations which officers enforce and which enables them to issue FPNs for breaches, do not restrict the distance travelled for exercise.”

The NPCC says that instead of issuing fines to people travelling outside their local areas “but are not breaching regulations, officers will encourage people to follow the guidance.”

In Wales, besides the restrictions on exercise detailed below, travel “to any areas of high incidence of coronavirus elsewhere in the UK … is not allowed,” so the group would appear to have broken that regulation.

Exercise is permitted “either (i) alone, (ii) with other members of the person’s household or extended household, or (iii) with the person’s carer,” but it “must start and finish at the place where the person is living or where a member of the person’s extended household is living.”

When Wales introduced a “firebreak” lockdown in October, the Independent reported that Gloucestershire Constabulary had said it would patrol roads into England and stopping drivers from Wales, with officers asking them to turn around if their journey was not permitted under the regulations then in force in the country.

However, the force admitted that it had no powers to enforce the legislation that applied in Wales, with the newspaper saying that wrongful application of such laws by officers in England had already resulted in fines and prosecutions being overturned.

A spokesperson for Gloucestershire Constabulary said at the time: “While we cannot issue fines to those travelling from Wales into the county, we can inform the host force of those we stop about what has happened so they can take action.

"Officers will be running an operation over the weekend that will cover routes from Wales into the Forest of Dean and if we stop someone travelling from Wales we will be engaging with them to find out why, explaining the legislation and encouraging them to turn around if we are not satisfied with their explanation.

“If they don't turn around we will then inform the force that polices the area they have travelled from so that they can issue a fine.”

> “Stay local” – What the latest lockdown laws and guidance mean for you and cycling

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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