The Dorset Police chief constable in the UK told lockdown protesters to just accept that “now is really not the time” for freedom of speech and the right to assembly.
James Vaughan was speaking after two women were arrested for being recorded leaving their home more than once and “sitting on a bench.” After a controversial reaction from the public, police now allege the arrest was “stage-managed” by lockdown protesters, as one of the women is a Covid skeptic. 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,’” Vaughan said 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 said, adding 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”.
Vaughan’s zero-tolerance attitude towards protesters is very different than what is shown by British police leaders towards Black Lives Matter activists. They have been allowed to break lockdown rules largely unbothered throughout the pandemic.
Chief Constable Vaughan actually admitted to the double standard.
“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 said.
“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 explained.
Vaughan also criticized Boris Johnson’s handling of the pandemic, saying, “I don’t know what the rationale and thinking is in Government around why they have not been more prescriptive with travel guidance.”
“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 traveling 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,” he said.