UK Police Chief: ‘Now Is Really Not the Time’ for Freedom of Speech, Right to Assembly

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The chief constable of Dorset Police has urged lockdown protesters to accept that “now is really not the time” for freedom of speech and the right to assembly.

Chief Constable James Vaughan was speaking after the controversial arrest of two women for, seemingly, being recorded leaving home more than once and “sitting on a bench”, in an incident the police now allege was “stage-managed” by lockdown protesters, as one of the women is a Covid sceptic — although she denies any pre-planning.

“We appealed to them [the protesters] last weekend to say: ‘Look guys, we respect your right to freedom of speech and right to assembly but now is really not the time, it is too dangerous. Please don’t come, we have got other things we need to do,'” said the chief constable in comments to The Telegraph.

“Instead of giving us a break this weekend they decided to change their tactics and it just smacks of civil disobedience, really,” he complained, saying that he was “a bit angry and frustrated with these protesters on Saturday” and claiming that his officers “were acting with utter courtesy and restraint”.

Chief Constable Vaughan’s zero-tolerance attitude towards protesters differs markedly from that shown by British police leaders towards Black Lives Matter activists, who have been allowed to break lockdown rules largely unmolested throughout the pandemic — in part, London Police Commissioner Cressida Dick admitted in June, because officers are afraid to enforce the law against them.

Incredibly, Chief Constable Vaughan seemed to admit the apparent double standard was an issue, and that the perhaps over-zealous enforcement of lockdown regulations against easier targets might be an issue — one causing damage to the public’s relationship with the police.

“I think we have taken some shrapnel to be fair. When you look at drones in the Peak District, 90-year-olds being arrested, women walking their dogs getting fined… you have those who say: ‘Nobody seemed to be bothered about Black Lives Matter or Extinction Rebellion protests or statues being thrown in the river,'” he confessed.

“The other extreme is that you are not doing enough and we are caught between the two really in terms of half the population seem to want us to take a very robust stance and the other half want us to take a proportionate stance so that is always the difficulty,” he complained.

Vaughan also took the slightly unusual step of almost openly criticising Boris Johnson’s government over how its lockdown should be enforced, with the police having made a number of missteps with respect to punishing people for leaving their home for exercise, which is allowed but only within vaguely-defined limits.

“I don’t know what the rationale and thinking is in Government around why they have not been more prescriptive with travel guidance,” he said.

“It has been a bit tricky through all three lockdowns. It would probably be better if they said: ‘Look, you can exercise every day but stay local – and unless there are exceptional circumstances we don’t expect you to be travelling a couple of miles from your house.’

“We seem to have said ‘stay local’ and that means your village, your town, your part of the city, but it is a bit vague and it leaves it open to abuse.”

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