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News Report Page 8 of 9
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Rights groups warn "disabled people will bear the brunt" of Police crackdown on mask rules

RIGHTS groups have urged Police Chiefs to clarify the legal exemptions on face covering requirements to Officers, amid fears that disabled people:- "will be disproportionately impacted" by the latest crackdown on Coronavirus laws. But, sadly, some people are still not taking Covid19 seriously and are putting everyone in danger. This is where the issue starts. If Police take action they risk being accused of heavy handed tactics and if they don't take action, it puts us all at risk.  This leads to gray areas and also mistakes happening, that we, as media have to be very carful about reporting, but this is where Government must start leading the way with clear instructions and a framework that is clearly set up to help those who fall through the cracks.  It also means that some of those who are affected might have to also adapt, in order to help the Police and society to distinguish between those with real exceptions and those who do not have any exceptions, but are just trying it on.

Big Brother Watch, Disability Rights UK, Mencap, the Royal National Institute for Deaf People and the Survivors Trust have now written to Chair of the National Police Chiefs' Council Martin Hewitt outlining concerns about the treatment of people who are legally exempt from the requirement to wear face coverings, citing:- "widespread confusion" among Police Officers.

The groups described their "alarm" at reports of Police Officers:- "wrongly claiming that people with disabilities must carry paperwork," which the groups explain has "no basis in law and risks discriminating against those with disabilities."

There are 2 laws in place that require people to wear a face covering on public transport and in a 'relevant place' such as supermarkets, respectively. Individuals are exempt from the requirement is they:- "cannot put on, wear or remove a face covering" due to:- "any physical or mental illness or impairment, or disability" or if doing so would cause:- "severe distress." A survey conducted by the Survivors Trust found that a
of survivors of rape and sexual abuse experience severe distress when covering their own face or seeing the faces of others covered.

Hazilet Hadi, Head of Policy, at Disability Rights UK:- "At this time of rising panic about the virus, resulting in calls for increased enforcement, it is even more vital that all Police Officers understand that some disabled people are exempt from wearing face coverings, due to physical or mental conditions. Disabled people who can't wear face coverings already experience high levels of anxiety and have faced hostility from members of the public, it is important that Police Officers demonstrate understanding and uphold the exemptions set out in the regulations."

However, the groups describe:- "ongoing reports" of Police demanding health evidence from individuals who are exempt from the face covering requirement, despite Government guidance that states no written evidence or exemption card is needed. A recent Department of Health public campaign stated:- "you should never challenge anyone for not wearing a face covering. Not all disabilities are visible."

The UK's Government guidance has been contradicted by senior Police figures such as Ken Marsh, the Chair of the Metropolitan Police Federation who recently told press:- "If you have a medical reason for not wearing a mask, you now have to print off a clarification that proves you have an exemption." However, no such requirement exists in law.

Madeleine Stone, Legal and Policy Officer, at Big Brother Watch:- "There is a real risk that disabled people will bear the brunt of the Government's push for faster and harder enforcement of its complicated rules. Police requiring people to 'show their papers' to prove their disability is discriminatory, wrong and has no basis in law. Likewise, when Police challenge people who have survived trauma to disclose the details of their exemption in public, it can be an intrusive and terrifying ordeal. It must be the highest priority of Officers to ensure that restrictions are enforced lawfully and fairly, without perpetuating discrimination."

West Midlands Police Force has been forced to apologise twice for its Officers, after an asthmatic man was handcuffed and issued with a fine for failing to supply evidence of his condition, and another man was escorted out of a supermarket for having no proof of his exemption.

More recently, a West Midlands Police Officer was recorded telling an individual that even supplying evidence of a disability would not prevent Officers from issuing a Fixed Penalty Notice and instead an individual would have to prove their exemption in court. After the recording drew criticism online, the force did not apologise and later issued a statement supporting the Officer's actions.

Kate Hardy, Communications and Campaigns Officer, at The Survivors Trust:- "The Survivors Trust supports calls for the regulation of face coverings in public places to be enforced in a lawful, and sensitive manner. We recognise that face coverings are important to reduce the spread of Covid19. However, greater clarification is needed to ensure an individual is not unlawfully asked to provide evidence of exemption. Some survivors of sexual violence are exempt in accordance with Government guidelines. For these individuals, being pressured to disclose their trauma to prove exemption could cause severe distress. An unjust, and overzealous enforcement of regulations may exacerbate anxiety and isolation for survivors. As we all try to navigate these challenging times in the safest ways we can, we urge the Police, and general public to act with compassion and kindness."

Campaigners are concerned about the impact of the latest crackdown on Coronavirus laws on people with disabilities. A survey conducted by Disability Rights UK found that 60% of disabled people:- "feared being challenged if they did not wear a mask." The rights groups told the Police Chief in the letter:- "As long as this widespread confusion among Police continues, we are concerned that people with disabilities will risk facing harassment, intimidation and unlawful Fixed Penalty Notices."

What are your thoughts on this very divisive issue? If you have any updates to send in or any views to:- News24@SouthportReporter.Com and let us know your feelings and ideas!

Swans trapped in ice rescued by RSPCA and Fire Service

Mum and juvenile swan at crowded Sefton Park lake now safely back at their nesting site.

A mother swan and her juvenile who became trapped in ice on Liverpool's Sefton Park lake have been rescued by the RSPCA and Merseyside Fire and Rescue. When concerned members of the public spotted the 2 desperate swans trapped in ice at Liverpool's Sefton Park lake, they contacted the RSPCA for help.  RSPCA Inspector Caren Goodman James said:- "The 2 swans appeared to have trodden on the thin ice on the surface of the lake which had then given way, causing the birds' legs to slip through and trap them. Sefton Park was really crowded on Sunday, 10 January 2021, and a lot of well meaning people who had gathered around the edge of the lake were throwing objects at the ice to try to break it. The birds were becoming increasingly stressed and the light was going so I knew we needed to act fast. As the rescue would require entering the water, I contacted Merseyside Fire and Rescue who soon arrived on the scene with lighting equipment. A member of their team in a dry suit waded towards the mother swan; who was near the centre of the lake amid thick ice; and managed to free her. Meanwhile, a local animal rescue group was working with an off duty Traffic Police Officer to move the crowds back and free the juvenile; which was much nearer the shore; by breaking the ice around the young bird. Thanks to their efforts the juvenile managed to extricate himself and luckily didn't require the help of the fire service. We were delighted to see both freed birds immediately make for the island in the lake, where they have a nesting site. They seemed uninjured, but just to make sure, an RSPCA colleague visited them again on Monday, 11 January 2021, and was relieved to see the whole swan family near their nesting site looking unstressed and behaving normally. We are grateful to the members of the public who raised the alarm. Our thanks also go to the off duty Police Officer and the local rescue group who helped with crowd control, stopping people from throwing objects and by helping the juvenile swan become free of the ice. We would also like to say a big thank you to Merseyside Fire and Rescue for their expertise in helping to save these 2 swans."

The animal charity advises members of the public not to put their own or someone else's life in danger attempting an animal rescue and to instead call the RSPCA for help. To report concerns about an animal that is sick, injured or in danger, please contact the RSPCA's Helpline on:- 0300 1234999.  This winter, the RSPCA expects to rescue thousands of animals from neglect, cruelty and suffering. Over Christmas 2020.  They said:- "We received more than 44,000 calls to our cruelty line, but the calls to our rescue line are not stopping so neither will we. To help our rescue teams continue to reach the animals who desperately need us this winter, visit:- RSPCA.Org.UK and Join the Winter Rescue #JoinTheRescue As the crisis intensifies, RSPCA frontline animal rescue and care teams are being stretched to their limit. We urgently need your help, as the number of animals in our care is set to rise. Please give any gift you can to our Coronavirus Emergency Appeal online at:- RSPCA.Org.UK/GetInvolved/Donate/Coronavirus."

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