03 Mar 2023
The Chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council Martin Hewitt has responded to leaked WhatsApp exchanges from a former health secretary to a senior civil servant in 2020 revealing concerns over enforcement of Covid-19 regulations.
National Police Chiefs' Council Chair Martin Hewitt said:
“Responding to the Covid-19 pandemic presented a unique challenge to policing in all parts of the UK and I am very proud of how we met the challenge. Police officers and staff were on the frontline of responding to this virus, working tirelessly to serve communities and helping the NHS to save lives.
“It was clear from the outset that unprecedented laws and regulations would be required, and that legislation would be enacted and changed at pace.
“My determination from the outset was that policing would maintain its relationship with the public and our tradition of policing with consent. That is why we adopted the approach of engage, explain, encourage, and only as a last resort, enforce.
“We were equally determined to strictly maintain the principle of the operational independence of the chief constable. Throughout the pandemic, other chief officers and I worked extremely closely with Home Office officials and ministers. The principle of operational independence was understood, respected, and defended by those officials and ministers in numerous meetings.
“Messages from the former Health Secretary revealed last night seek to give an impression of direct pressure and control being exerted by ministers on policing action. My recollection is of robust discussions about difficult decisions where the operational independence of policing was robustly defended by myself and other chief officers, and that principle was supported by the then Home Secretary and Policing Minister.
“I look forward to the facts of these exchanges being fully exposed by the ongoing public inquiry.”
On the former Health Secretary’s language, Mr. Hewitt said:
“The former Health Secretary’s language and use of the word ‘plod’ is much more a reflection on him than it is on the committed police officers and staff on the frontline protecting the country from Covid-19".
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