Two women were given a £200 each for driving five miles to go for a walk in a local nature spot, with officers claiming their Starbucks classed as a picnic.
Jessica Allen and Eliza Moore, both 27, claim they were surrounded by police when they arrived separately at Foremark Reservoir in Derbyshire on Wednesday (6 January).
The pair say they believed they were following the guidelines of staying local to exercise, with both of them only living ten minutes away in nearby Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Leics.
But they were left stunned to be ‘read their rights’ by cops ,then slapped with the fine for breaking lockdown.
Derbyshire Police have defended the decision to fine the women, saying that driving for exercise was ‘not in the spirit’ of lockdown.
Beautician Jessica said she thought there had been a murder when she saw the police van, a squad car and several officers at the entrance of the beauty spot.
She said: “With my business being closed going for a walk is the only time I get out of the house really to do some exercise.
“It can be busy just walking around my local area so decided to go drive to the reservoir because I knew it would be less crowded.
“If anything I thought I was being more responsible, and I thought I was staying local as the guidance suggests.
“We went in separate cars as well as we thought that was more sensible – but the police thought apparently not.
“As we drove in there was a police van, a police car, and there were loads of police there – we thought there must have been a murder or something.
“I genuinely thought something major had happened as the place is normally so quiet.
“The next thing, my car is surrounded by police and they start questioning us as soon as we both set foot outside.
“One of them started reading my rights and I was looking at my friend thinking ‘This must be a joke’.
“I pointed out that we came in separate cars, even parked two spaces away and even brought our own drinks with us.
“He said ‘You can’t do that as it’s classed as a picnic’. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
“I’m taking the pandemic very seriously as my brother is a doctor working on a Covid ward in London.
“Both my parents had coronavirus, so I’m trying to be as careful as possible.
“I’m self-employed but my business is closed and I’m trying to fill my time.
“I suffer from anxiety and when you go by the water you feel so much better. The only thing I’ve got to look forward to is planning a walk with my friend.
“I was so shook up afterwards. The fact they read my rights. I thought ‘Am I going to prison for going on a walk?’
“I’m not a criminal but we were treated as if we were criminals and it really made me feel for those people who are wrongly arrested and questioned by police.
“It wasn’t a nice situation to be in and it made me wary of police in future. I’m sure they are not all like this, but it really was a horrible experience.”
Eliza, who works as cabin crew for British Airways and runs a make-up business, said she was left ‘stunned’ by the fine.
She added: “Just seeing a police officer anyway is quite scary for some people and we were really not expecting to be approached and to be told we were doing something wrong.
“We don’t want to get away with it if we have broken the rule, but it seems a bit unfair that you can be fined on something that’s so vague.”
Guidance for the current lockdown says people can travel for exercise as long as it is in their ‘local area’, but the legislation does not specify a maximum distance that people are allowed to travel for exercise.
Human rights barrister Adam Wagner told the BBC: “There is no law against travelling to exercise.
“The guidance is not legally binding and the police have no power to enforce it unless it is reflected in the lockdown regulations which in this case it is not.”
Andrew Bridgen, MP for North West Leicestershire, tweeted his support for the women and said: “I’m concerned that my constituents are facing fines from Derbyshire Police for taking exercise in what I would class as the local area.
“It is important that common sense is used when enforcing guidelines, and a fine rather than issuing guidance appears to be rather overzealous.”
A Derbyshire Police spokesperson said: “The current guidance states that while you are able to exercise you should do so locally – defined as being within your village, town or city area.
“We of course understand that there may be valid reasons for travelling outside of these areas for exercise, however, driving to a location – where exercise could easily have been taken closer to a person’s home – is clearly not in the spirit of the national effort to reduce our travel, reduce the possible spread of the disease and reduce the number of deaths.
“Each officer will use their professional judgement on a case-by-case basis, however, people should expect to be challenged and understand the clear reasons why they may be asked about their movements given the critical situation the NHS currently finds itself in.”