Transcript of Module 2 Public Hearing on 09 November 2023

(10.00 am)

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor.

Mr O’Connor: Good morning, my Lady.

Mr Martin Hewitt

MR MARTIN HEWITT (affirmed).

Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry

Mr O’Connor: Do take a seat. Could you give us your full name, please.

Mr Martin Hewitt: My name is Martin James Hewitt.

Counsel Inquiry: Mr Hewitt, you kindly provided the Inquiry with a witness statement which will come on screen now. You can see it there. We see that it’s a statement in fact headed “Corporate witness statement on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council”, but it is a statement that you made, is it not?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It is.

Counsel Inquiry: In fact, if we look at paragraph 1 of the statement, you explain that you regard this as being, that phrase, a corporate witness statement. If we can look at paragraph 2 of the statement, we can see, I think, what you mean to convey by that term, which is that the information in the statement is drawn firstly from your own knowledge and experience, but also, and perhaps this is why you describe it as a corporate statement, on the basis of material provided by staff within the NPCC and other policing bodies.

So that is the basis on which the statement was drafted, but with that in mind, we don’t need to go to it, but on the final page there is a statement of truth indicating that you believe, on that basis, that the facts contained in the statement are true. Does that remain the position?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That does.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

I’m going to ask you first, Mr Hewitt, a few brief questions about your career. It’s right, isn’t it, that you joined the police, in fact the Kent Police, in 1993?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: You transferred to the Metropolitan Police in 2005, and you then remained with the Metropolitan Police and reached the rank of assistant commissioner?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: In 2015, is it right that you were appointed the vice chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes. That’s not a full-time role, but it was – there are two vice chairs at any time supporting the full-time chair, so I was one of those two vice chairs, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And I think it’s right that you served in that capacity for four years, until 2019, so would it be right that you were doing a job at the Metropolitan Police in parallel to your role with the NPCC for that period?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, my main job was on the management board of the Metropolitan Police, but as an aside I also undertook the role of vice chair.

Counsel Inquiry: What was your role with the Metropolitan Police at that time?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So I was an assistant commissioner on the management board, in a number of roles, during that five-year period, but from 2014 through to 2019 I was one of the assistant commissioners there.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Then in 2019, you in fact were appointed as the chair of the NPCC, and that is, I think, a full-time role?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That is a full-time role, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And you served in that capacity for four years or so, until earlier this year?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: When you ceased to be chair of the NPCC, I think it was in the spring of this year, did you in fact at that point retire from the police force?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Indeed, in April this year, that’s correct.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you.

It will be apparent from that brief history, Mr Hewitt, that you were of course chair of the NPCC for the entire period of the pandemic, and that of course is the time period that I’m going to focus on in my questions to you today.

You provide us with a fair amount of detail about the make-up and the workings of the NPCC in your witness statement, which we’re grateful for and we have in writing. I’m not proposing to go into too much detail now, because, as you also describe in your statement, the NPCC – as indeed so many other institutions in the country – had to act in a very exceptional way during the pandemic; is that right?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That’s correct, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And so some of the things we’ll be discussing today don’t actually fall very neatly into the type of work that the NPCC does at other times?

Mr Martin Hewitt: One of its core roles is to co-ordinate national activity. Every police service in the UK is legally independent, and the NPCC brings together the interests of the chief officers in all of those organisations, and when there are issues which require national co-ordination, that’s a role that the NPCC undertakes. But it had never taken one to the scale of dealing with Covid-19.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s just look at that briefly and pick up some of those points you’ve just made.

We can see, we’re looking at paragraph 4 of your report, as you say, as you’ve just described, the NPCC’s sort of core function is as a national co-ordinating body representing all UK police forces, and you mention there the Association of Chief Police Officers, ACPO, which I’m sure many of us can remember from the old days. This is the successor body –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: – to ACPO? Then paragraph 5, it’s important to bear in mind, is it not, that the NPCC represents all UK police forces? We, as an inquiry, are a UK Inquiry, we have had a number of issues relating to the other nations, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, of the UK.

It’s right, isn’t it, that policing is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and Scotland, but does it remain the position that those police forces are represented by part of the NPCC?

Mr Martin Hewitt: They – it is indeed devolved in both those administration – or countries, but they are full, fully participating members of NPCC.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

You’ve touched already on the function, in very general terms, of the NPCC, but in summary is it fair to say that it’s one of a group of national bodies designed to provide national leadership and co-ordination to local police forces that all have operational independence?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And perhaps of particular importance for present purposes, the NPCC has, as one of its roles, producing national standards, thematic policies and so on, covering a whole range of different policing matters?

Mr Martin Hewitt: And that’s done in conjunction with the College of Policing, so the College of Policing owns standards within policing but works very closely with the NPCC, where we would be – we would be driving where we felt those policies were required. So it’s a – it’s a joint working between the College of Policing and the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

Counsel Inquiry: Just exploring that in a bit more detail, then, is it the role of the NPCC to, as it were, commission the college to work up policies?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes. I think that’s a good way of describing it. So NPCC represents all the chief officers. They will obviously be working and thinking about those issues that are most important issues for policing, and when you want policies, and particularly approved practice, which defines how police should do the various things that we do, then that would be worked with the College of Policing.

Counsel Inquiry: Do those policies, and we’ll see some of them today, then, as it were, come back to the NPCC to be signed off or approved?

Mr Martin Hewitt: They would be. The main decision-making body within NPCC, and arguably within policing, is Chief Constables’ Council, so Chief Constables’ Council brings together the chief constable, or, in the London forces, the commissioner from the individual forces, and that’s where, as a body, the service makes its key decisions. That process is run by the National Police Chiefs’ Council and chaired by the chair of NPCC.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and that was your role?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That was my role for the four years, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: For those years, yeah.

Let’s just look at one other dimension of this, if we can, and that’s on page 3 of your statement at paragraph 7. We’ve already referred to the fact that the individual forces have operational independence, and you emphasise in this part of your statement that the NPCC cannot direct forces to act in any particular way; is that right?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, that’s absolutely correct, and I think that is – that is a really important point. The NPCC is not a statutory body, it is an agreement amongst all the chief officers, but in each individual force area, operational direction and control rests with the chief constable and whatever the political governance is in an individual police area, that may be a mayor, it may be a police and crime commissioner, but ultimately that governance and the operational ownership rests with the chief constable.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. I’m just going to ask you to try and –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Sorry, I will.

Counsel Inquiry: – speak a little more slowly in giving us your answers, Mr Hewitt.

You do discuss in a little detail in your statement the arrangements and procedures that apply where a particular police force or a chief constable decides not to follow the guidance of the NPCC, or the Chief Constables’ Council perhaps.

Can I just ask you whether that is actually of much relevance to us here today? What we’re going to be exploring is the fairly high-level guidance that the NPCC and the college –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – provided to police forces during the pandemic, in particular in the context of enforcing Covid regulations.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Was there, in fact, any sort of deliberate divergence amongst police forces from that guidance?

Mr Martin Hewitt: No. That refers to the ability for a chief constable to derogate from a decision that was taken at Chief Constables’ Council. That, in normal circumstances, was a very rare occurrence, and in relation to Covid I don’t think it’s relevant for the purposes of what the Inquiry is seeking to understand.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Let’s move on, then, please, Mr Hewitt, to a bit more detail about precisely what the NPCC did during the pandemic. For these purposes, if we can go to page 8 of your statement, paragraph 31, and you there make the point the pandemic “posed a wide range of challenges in every aspect of private and public life”, and you go on to say that was no different for the police:

“… the pandemic [you say] affected every part of our work and every part of the service.”

Was that the position?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Absolutely. It was very clear that there was going to be a policing role in helping the country respond to Covid-19, but before that, during that and after, normal policing activity was still going to carry on, to one extent or another. So for the service it was a question of how we balanced our normal duties and all the other responsibilities with whatever came as a result of the – policing the pandemic.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, so we can perhaps quite easily imagine that just the normal day-to-day duties of the police, the prevention and detection of crime, the pandemic affected the way in which those duties had to be conducted at every level?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Every single activity that policing undertook was going to be, to some extent, different in the light of whatever we needed to do in relation to the pandemic, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And you also refer in your statement to a whole extra category of concerns about protecting the health and safety of police officers and, no doubt, people with whom they came into contact from catching Covid during that period?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah, absolutely, from the outset it was going to be very clear that normal policing to one extent or another was going to continue throughout however the country responded, so we had to be thinking very carefully about how we were going to allow that to happen safely for our staff but also for all the people that they were interacting with. And as one of the chief constables put it in one of the early discussions, you know, you can’t police at 2 metres distant; it’s really challenging to do the work that we needed to do in the context of a pandemic.

Counsel Inquiry: So all of that was something that police forces and the NPCC had to think about?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: But beyond that, and this takes us to really where I’m going to be focusing, there was also this whole question of the duties of the police as they became to enforce the regulations and other laws around the Covid response?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: In your – in this same paragraph that we’re looking at, you – I think it’s in that context, looking about seven or eight lines down, that you say:

“In addition … the provisions of the Coronavirus Act … and [the] related … Regulations led the police service into [your words] public health policing, which was largely uncharted territory.”

Can you just expand on that term of “public health policing”?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Policing traditionally would be in relation to dealing with crime and criminality and safety in that sense, and we did not have experience of policing in this regard, and I think it’s important to make the point about the use of the word “enforcement”. What we were really talking about was trying to achieve compliance with whatever the – the regulations were there to keep people safe, to reduce the transmission of the virus, to keep people safe, and our role was to try to achieve – play a role in achieving compliance with those regulations.

So it was – it was a very new area. It was evident, as we were thinking about how we were going to have to respond to this, that was going to clash with our normal way of operating as the police service in this country, and I particularly recall being struck by the images in Italy where you were seeing villages and towns literally encircled by armed carabinieri stopping people going in and out. So we were very focused on: how do we conduct policing support in a health crisis that is consistent with the way that we seek to police ordinarily, and those were the kind of questions that we were wrestling with as we prepared to deal with whatever came.

Counsel Inquiry: One can obviously see that this was a new territory –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Entirely.

Counsel Inquiry: – but I just want to press you on quite how different it was. I mean, as perhaps we’ll come to see, would it be fair to say that many of the principles, much of the training that the police already had in public order matters, in community policing, were not that far distant from the type of approach needed during the pandemic?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Of course we drew throughout the pandemic on the skills that we already had in the way that we operated in ordinary circumstances. The difference was the fact that we were now – so in the first instance, any of those things that you referred to were now having to happen in a very different context, where the individuals that we were dealing with may or may not have been carrying the virus.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Our officers were having to be considering their own safety, and potentially they could be carrying the virus. So you’ve suddenly got a very different dimension there. But the other area that I think perhaps is what was in my mind, when we talked about uncharted territory, was looking at the other countries where the virus had spread ahead of this country, you could see the kind of measures that were being taken were measures that, as far as I’m aware, in policing terms, nothing like that had happened since the Second World War. So we were going to be into positions where we were going to be imposing on people’s liberty and movement and their lives in a way that was totally out of our experience at that point in time.

Counsel Inquiry: Thank you. It’s here, I think I mentioned this earlier, that you refer to what you were facing as an “unprecedented situation calling for an unprecedented response”, and the response which the NPCC gave to this situation, you named, did you not, Operation Talla?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: We can see that if we go over to the next page of your statement, please, paragraph 9. You there refer to Operation Talla. If we can go on to paragraph 10 – sorry, I meant paragraph 33.

You emphasise later in the statement, and in fact this is something we’ve already discussed, that the NPCC has no operational function, and you are, are you not, emphasising here again that Operation Talla provided guidance but no more than that to the individual police forces?

Mr Martin Hewitt: I think as well as guidance perhaps the way I would describe it was as co-ordination, and co-ordination at a national level. It was very apparent, as we were watching coronavirus spread westwards, that this was going to be a critical incident in – unlike any that I had – and I’ve dealt with a number of critical incidents, as you might imagine, over my career.

Some real differences that I think are important: this was going to affect every single square metre of the United Kingdom, which is unusual. It – we had no sense of the timeline of how long this operation was going to have to run for. And perhaps most importantly as well, it was a critical incident that it was obvious from the beginning was going to engage every part of government, because every part of government was going to have to work. And on that basis, it just seemed to me that we needed to have a co-ordinated response from the police service, across all of those police organisations, working into and with government in – so that we were able to provide our response accordingly.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. This may be a slightly academic point, you were, as we’ve established, chair of the NPCC at this time; did you have a sort of designated role in Operation Talla or was it simply that in practice, in your role as chair, you were very heavily involved?

Mr Martin Hewitt: No, I had a designated role. I took the lead for – so I was what we would call the gold commander for Operation Talla. I pulled all the chief constables together in the early – very early March, and had the discussion to say: this is going to require national co-ordination.

As I said in my statement, we had undertaken a similar process the previous December during the election, the general election, in terms of providing candidate security across the country, because there were concerns at that stage. So I pulled the chiefs together and said, “We need to do this and we will run this from the centre”, and that I would take the gold role.

Counsel Inquiry: Just a couple of further points about the way in which the operation worked. If we look at paragraph 34, we’ve talked already about the communication between forces, encouraging co-operation, but you also refer there to liaison with the government.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Which was another role that Operation Talla played. Can you expand on that for us, please?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So one of my key roles pre-Covid was to be the sort of chief officer representative into the Home Office, and particularly working with the Home Secretary and senior officials, and it was evident that we were going to need to be in a position to work as effectively as we could with government as the pandemic and all the measures rolled through. So we worked incredibly closely, and the team in Op Talla worked very closely with the team sitting in the Home Office that were managing the Home Office response in – for central government for the pandemic.

Counsel Inquiry: We will come to talk about the regulations and how they were drafted and so on, but I don’t think it was the Home Office, in fact, that was responsible for drafting those regulations. Was it the DHSC?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It was DHSC, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Did Operation Talla also have links into the DHSC or did you have to go via the Home Office?

Mr Martin Hewitt: We – we did the vast majority of the work that we did, and I think quite properly, through the Home Office. So the working relationship there was incredibly strong. And latterly, and after – I was involved in a particular meeting in the Cabinet Office, I think in the September of 2020, where at that point we did then get some access, as the police service, to some of the DHSC data. At that stage we were moving into tiers and to local lockdowns, and we felt at that stage that – understanding some of that localised data, so we were able to take part in DHSC meetings. But up to that point and primarily throughout the pandemic, our route in was through the Home Office.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Well, I’ll come back to probably ask you a little more about that when we are talking about the regulations.

Just to finish off this part of the statement, if we can look at paragraph 35, please.

We see there a reference again to Operation Talla having application for all forces England, but also Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We’ve already touched on the fact that policing is a devolved matter in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Did the Scottish and Northern Irish police forces in fact simply use the guidance documents that were promulgated by the NPCC, or did they adopt a slightly different approach?

Mr Martin Hewitt: They – in – they were, really important to say, they were from a policing perspective, very fully part and linked to Operation Talla. So in all of the various meeting processes they were represented there, and all of the guidance that was provided in England and Wales was shared with Northern Ireland and with Scotland, and in some cases they would – they would obviously utilise what was in our guidance but they did produce their own guidance, but it very rarely differed in any significant way from the guidance that we were producing. Because one of the other points that I think is important, we ran this as a UK police response, despite the fact that for a significant part of the pandemic the legislation and the regulations in the four countries differed to one extent or another.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and that’s a point we’ll come back to.

Can I turn now, please, Mr Hewitt, and ask you a little bit more about the particular powers and the legal framework for the enforcement exercise?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: To do this, perhaps we could call up on screen – that’s it, INQ000099972. This, I think, is a guidance note or – I don’t know if that’s the correct term – produced by the NPCC. We can see it’s also badged with the College of Policing at the top there. I think it’s right to say this was produced fairly early in the pandemic in April –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – I think it was.

Is this, Mr Hewitt, typical of the type of document that was provided during the pandemic?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That is relatively typical. So this document, and I think we may come on to look at the document around the “Four Es”, but the challenge that we had, if you imagine, across all of the UK, 140,000-something police officers who were going to be out in the communities and doing what we were asked to do, was how we found a way to, as effectively as possible, provide the information that those officers required to go and do their job safely and properly and to achieve the objectives that we were setting. So there was an enormous effort placed in producing very clear, easily understandable guidance that would go out, obviously in this sort of form but through all the electronic devices that officers carried, so that people had access to the information they needed to have at any given time.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. So you’re not – you didn’t see it as your role to provide sort of lengthy and wordy guidance documents to the chief constables and leave it to them to talk to their staff; you were trying to draft documents that would go straight to being used on the ground?

Mr Martin Hewitt: My experience over many decades is that lengthy documents were not going to be terribly helpful for the officers on the ground, and that whilst we shared everything, and I met very regularly with all the chief constables, the challenge in, if you like, contracting that out to them was that you wouldn’t get the consistency, and what we were aiming for was to try to get as much consistency as was possible, again against the backdrop often of different regulations in different countries.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Well, just looking at the detail for a moment, there is, first of all, a distinction on this leaflet drawn between number 1, which is the police powers under the Coronavirus Act –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and number 2, which is the role of the police in enforcing or, to use your term, “ensuring compliance” –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – with coronavirus regulations.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Just looking at the Act, first of all, there is there described a power to direct people to be tested for coronavirus and a power to enforce medical directions. Was that in fact a power that the police found themselves exercising very much during the course of the pandemic?

Mr Martin Hewitt: In a very limited way indeed, in a very limited way.

Counsel Inquiry: We can see from the paragraph at the bottom of the column that it, in any event, was a power that had to be exercised in consultation with a public health officer, which was presumably one reason why it –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – wasn’t much used in practice?

Mr Martin Hewitt: And I think it’s probably helpful: one of the – always one of the challenges with policing on the ground is achieving the level of certainty around exactly what – and I think if you take that final paragraph there that’s highlighted in red, there is so much in there that is open to – open to interpretation, that that makes that a very, very difficult power for anyone to confidently – to confidently use on the street.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. But as it happens, as it turned out in fact, perhaps partly for that reason –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: – but in any event, it wasn’t a power that really featured –

Mr Martin Hewitt: No.

Counsel Inquiry: – during the course of the pandemic.

Mr Martin Hewitt: I agree.

Counsel Inquiry: But that is to be contrasted, is it not, with the powers in the second column of this note, the power, the duty to enforce the various different regulations made relating to the pandemic? There are just three described here, and we bear in mind that this document dates from April –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Early on.

Counsel Inquiry: – 2020, but it’s right, isn’t it, and we will come to discuss that over the course of the following 12 months, 18 months, there was a proliferation of similar regulations made which the police –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – were required to consider?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: When that happened, were further versions of this document produced?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes. The process – that process that went through – and I think by my reckoning there was something over 140 changes during the period, where that was either a minor change or a significant change that came out – the process that was then undertaken was that we would receive that – and we may come on to talk about this in a bit more detail – we would receive that and then provide operational guidance out to forces to allow them to have the best understanding they could of how those powers were – the powers that were enacted at that particular point in time. And that was, as you would imagine, a rolling process as things changed and were superseded.

So it was a – pretty much a seven-day a week process to keep us up to speed and ensure – and, of course, we have to bear in mind that there would often be differences in different countries, and then, at various stages later, where we ended up in tiers and in local lockdowns, even within an individual police force area you would have different regulations being in play at the same time –

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Martin Hewitt: – which created all sorts of challenges, as you might imagine, for policing on the ground.

Counsel Inquiry: I was going to ask you about that. So when it did – when one did get to the stage of different regulations being –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – made, let’s say, in Scotland or, as you say, later on, particularly with the tiering structure, different regulations within different parts of the country, was it still your role to try and draft, with the college, documents like this which you would send to the local police forces?

Mr Martin Hewitt: And they – but they would be clearly more specific and related directly to individual areas. And then within individual police forces they would have to be – they would have to be managing those processes themselves as well, because it did get incredibly complex at times.

Counsel Inquiry: Just moving on as far as this document is concerned, we’ve looked at column 1 and column 2; they were both legal duties, legal matters for the police to enforce. On the third column, you refer to something different, which is government guidance. Again, this is a point we’ll come back to, but the message is given here, it seems, that police officers need to be aware that guidance is not the law and they should bear that in mind in enforcing in particular regulations?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That was an incredibly important point, and remained – and I’m sure we will talk more about that, but we police to the law, and I think the challenge at times where things that were guidance were being spoken about in a way that suggested they were a regulation was a real challenge for the service.

Counsel Inquiry: Just a couple more short points on this document.

First of all, we can see both at the bottom of column 1 and also at the bottom of column 2 a note that the powers that are being discussed in each of those columns also apply to children. That was obviously the case. I’m going to come back and ask you further questions about that in due course. But was this – it clearly was something that you thought was important to flag to officers?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Absolutely. I think it was – we needed to try – with the regulations that we had we needed to be as clear as possible. So this was always an exercise in trying to reduce the question marks in the minds of the officer on the ground, because importantly, as I think we’ll come on to talk about, in our “Four Es” approach, the second E, which was about explain to the member of the public that you’re talking, that can obviously only be done if the officer, you know, his or herself understands the regulations at that point in time, which was very challenging as things progressed.

Counsel Inquiry: That was the first point.

The second point really goes back to a point you made about, in the context of the power, the duty under the Act relating to directing people to be tested. But it applies, does it not, to the second column as well in the sense that the – what police officers were being asked to do here involved them exercising a very great degree of discretion. I mean, one can contrast it perhaps with a straightforward prevention or detection of crime issue, if they see someone shoplifting, they take action –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – that it’s really a binary thing. Here their task was much more complicated.

Mr Martin Hewitt: I think it is fair to say that in everyday policing, pre-coronavirus, post coronavirus, police officers on the ground have discretion, and that’s the right – I think the right way that we operate: they police to the law but they have discretion on the ground.

What this did was bring into play a whole range of situations that were utterly different from your shoplifter example, where, you know, the crime is the crime and most people would understand that. So it took it into a very different space.

And if I might, just one other thing that I think is important about the second box there is where it mentions Trading Standards and local authorities. I think throughout the pandemic, I had a – some sense of frustration at times that whenever, politically, people were talking about “enforcement”, that automatically equalled the police, and the reality was this was about achieving compliance with the regulations which were there to protect people. This calls out Trading Standards and local authorities, but in other cases, for example, there were loads of businesses – the work that was done within supermarkets by the staff to enforce, if you like, compliance with the regulations, and I think it is important that we don’t – there was frustration at times from my perspective that “enforcement” automatically equalled the police, when it was really about a much broader effort to achieve compliance.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Well, that complexity, the novelty of what the police officers were being asked to do, was something that, is this right, you sought to address by providing them with the guidance we see in the bottom right-hand corner of the –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – box, the “Engage, Explain, Encourage, Enforce” guidance?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: That is something that we can see addressed more fully in another document, if we could go to that, please, INQ000099936.

Mr Hewitt, we see there the “Four Es”, as I think they’re referred to in your statement, and I think became fairly commonly described?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: I don’t want to read this document out or to go through it in fine detail, but can you just provide us with a summary of the rationale behind this guidance that was provided?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So – so the rationale – as I said earlier, I was very clear in my mind, as were the others – the other chiefs that I was working with, that we – we had to police the pandemic in a way that was consistent with our policing style, a policing style that is a consensual policing style, and we knew that we were going to be going into territory that was highly unusual and the kind of restrictions that were going to be placed on people’s liberty and movement were incredibly severe, and the reason for the “Four Es” was that the approach was very much about: this is about how do you most effectively achieve compliance with the regulation and therefore protect people.

Engaging is entirely what we do, that’s how we do our policing, so it was about talking with people, talking to people.

It was about explanation. We would all I’m sure accept that at various stages throughout the process there was – there was a lack of clarity about what precisely what individual regulations meant, and in some sense I guess there would always be a degree of that, but often it was quite difficult. So we saw the police officers as an opportunity to provide that explanation to people about the rules if they were unclear.

Then really importantly, encouraging them to comply, because that, and this is a really important point from the policing perspective, that was the object of the exercise. The object of the exercise was not to take some action against a person, it was to get the person to comply with the regulation. So the encourage phase was there.

And then only lastly, and as you will see on all the literature, as a last resort, if the person refuses to comply then we would move to an enforcement stage. And that was – this was the piece of guidance that we put out and remained throughout, and was really important, because it – we always took it back to that being the point.

And it’s another, I think, important point for the Inquiry to understand, is: when people talk about the level of enforcement, they tend to go directly to how many fixed penalty tickets were issued, and there is a categoric number for that; what we can’t measure is how many, the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of engagements that happened where the process ended at one of the first three – one of the first three stages there.

We did at some times seek to try to find that, but we weren’t going to impose a bureaucratic burden and try to find that out. But that is really – I think that’s a really important point for the Inquiry to understand, and particularly thinking for any future – any future pandemic response in the country, we, I think, need a more sophisticated sense of thinking what we say – or what we mean when we say the word “enforcement”.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. One of the ways you put it in your witness statement is to say that success was regarded as the ability to secure maximum compliance without the need to resort to –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Precisely. Precisely that, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Again, in terms of thinking to the future, you say that these “Four Es”, that this guidance stayed the course, as it were, it wasn’t changed during the pandemic. Can we take it, therefore, that you regard this as being a success and something that could be copied in future?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah, very strongly. And in a sense it feeds off a process, a five-stage process, and I won’t go into the detail, that policing uses on a day-to-day basis. I mean, I think some people would have the assumption you start from zero to arresting, but there is a whole process that goes through, and I would very strongly suggest that this approach, for any body that is involved in – and it will not just be the police, in trying to achieve compliance with a series of safety regulations, this is the approach that should be, that should be adopted.

Counsel Inquiry: You’ve mentioned this point and, as it were, encouraged us to bear in mind the enormous number of engagements that police officers would have had with members of the public during the pandemic, and that sort of unknowable number of those engagements that ended with one of the earlier Es –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – without there being any need to issue a fixed penalty notice. But it must be right, mustn’t it, that – and it really goes to the point about the breadth of the discretion – that different officers will have had a slightly different or perhaps a very different approach to when it was appropriate to issue a fixed penalty notice –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and, beyond that, there may have been different practices, different police forces or different police stations?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, I think that’s absolutely right, there will always be that officer discretion, and I don’t think it’s particularly controversial to say that. Obviously I’m sure at times some officers didn’t get, you know, didn’t get that right. But we were – everyone was very clear. And of course, again, I think another really important point about policing, policing is always undertaken in its particular context, and that context will be different in different parts of the country, or even different parts within individual police force areas. It will be different as the pandemic progressed and we saw the different levels of regulation, the sort of – the local regulations. It will be different again, as we saw, those areas – because some areas stayed within a lockdown arrangement for much longer than others, so one has to accept that there will have been a degree of lockdown fatigue in those areas, which is inevitably going to alter the interaction that happens between that member of the public and that police officer.

So we live with that all the time, but I think it – particularly focused in unusual regulations like this.

Counsel Inquiry: One of the reasons I asked you about that sort of divergence, if you like –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – is that we’ll come to look at the statistics which, in the way of statistics, are very sort of black and white.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: I want to ask you whether, when we do look at those, we really do need to bear in mind that there may have been quite considerable difference in practice in the country or not. You’ve explained that your aim was to achieve a level of consistency across the country.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Can you help us with whether at different stages of the pandemic perhaps you felt that you weren’t – you really weren’t achieving that and different forces within the country seemed to be having a very different approach to this sort of escalation through these Es or not?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah, I’m not sure I would, I’m not sure I would characterise it as not achieving it. I think what I would say, there were – undoubtedly at different times during the pandemic different forces were faced with a different, with a different challenge.

So perhaps, if I can give one illustration, in the early part of the pandemic and the data that you – that we will come on to later referred to very high levels of enforcement in areas that might be described as kind of beauty spot areas, so in Cumbria, in the Lake District, in North Yorkshire, down in the southwest, and that was a phenomenon that was at the point where people could go out to do some exercise, people were travelling in some cases hundreds of miles to go to another part of the country, to a nice – to a beautiful part of the country to undertake that.

So that is what it is, and we can, I guess, talk about the lack of specificity in some of the regulations. But if you put yourself into the place of the chief constable in Cumbria, and I’ll use Cumbria as an example, the chief constable there has a community that is attempting to comply and to protect themselves, and are quite rightly getting quite angry about the fact that what they are seeing is lots of people from other parts of the country coming into those communities when they are – they are abiding by all the rules. That presents a real pressure in to that chief constable, because, as I’ve said before, however long the pandemic was going to go on, we were going to still carry on policing after that pandemic, and that really came to a – it kind of came to some of the behavioural science that we got involved in early on, and particularly this theory of – this concept of othering. And in terms of people’s preparedness to comply, it is eroded when I think that the other person over there is having an easier time than me.

And this particularly became relevant when we started to get local lockdowns and in some places where you would have, literally on opposite sides of the road, different regulations for people. But I think that became quite a feature – if you talk about those beauty spot areas, where people were saying, “We are doing this, we are not moving, we are staying local, and these people are coming in and potentially putting us at risk”, and that puts a pressure on policing, and I think those pressures were being responded to.

So I think it was less that we weren’t getting the message but whatever the message has to be dealt with in the individual and specific context at that moment in time in a particular place.

Lady Hallett: Can you slow down a bit, Mr Hewitt.

Mr Martin Hewitt: I beg your pardon.

Lady Hallett: Don’t worry, (unclear).

Mr O’Connor: Mr Hewitt, I’m going to move on and focus on the question of the challenges in providing effective guidance in relation to –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – the regulations, given the way in which they developed.

Lady Hallett: Just before you do that, Mr O’Connor, I’m sorry to interrupt.

You said earlier, Mr Hewitt, that the regulations were drafted by the Department of Health and Social Care; do you know whether any police officers were consulted, given the problems you’ve said with trying to enforce regulations that – some of them I’ve never even heard of, the ability to enforce a test. I’d be surprised if that was used at all, was it? You said “limited”, but I wonder if there is any example.

Mr Martin Hewitt: I doubt there – I didn’t know any specifically, but I doubt it very much, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: But we all know, those of us who have been involved in the criminal justice system, that regulations, Acts that create offences with penal consequences have to be clear.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Lady Hallett: So did anybody consult your organisation or, I don’t know, judges or lawyers as to the content of these regulations or the Act?

Mr Martin Hewitt: My Lady, in relation to judges and lawyers, I can’t answer.

Lady Hallett: Obviously.

Mr Martin Hewitt: There were a limited number of occasions where meetings were being held to make decisions where I was able to be present to give a police – what would the implications be from a policing perspective. In the vast majority of cases where there was any discussion going on in central government, we were feeding that vicariously through the Home Office.

And I have to say the relationship that my team had with the Home Office team was exceptionally good, and they absolutely understood the challenges that we were facing, and they were often our advocate.

Lady Hallett: They were used to it.

Mr Martin Hewitt: And they were used to it. And they understood that. And I have to say, on a number of occasions where I wasn’t able to be at the meetings, I was absolutely assured subsequently that the Home Secretary at the time had very strongly pressed the position that the position was – you know, the policing implications. And I think, really importantly as well, not just the policing implications for dealing with this particular regulation, but the policing implications more broadly for how we police our communities, because the rest of policing was still going on to one extent or another.

So I think it certainly was one of our frustrations that we were not able to be in at an earlier stage to suggest – there were times where we did get the opportunity, but I would argue if this happened again and there was clearly going to have to be an enforcement aspect to that, getting those people in that ultimately would have the primary responsibility for that to be discussing how this thing moves forward would seem to me to make sense.

Lady Hallett: I for one would certainly agree.

As I say, going back to – I think it’s the previous page – the power to direct a test, (a) is an extraordinary power to –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Lady Hallett: I shouldn’t be one to criticise our elected representatives, but it is, I mean – and I can’t see the purpose. I see an awful lot, as you said, of uncertainties, reasonable grounds, whether it was impractical, having to have a public health officer, and there are so many reasons why that is a bad piece of legislation.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Lady Hallett: Sorry, again, I shouldn’t criticise, but I am going to.

Mr Martin Hewitt: But, my Lady, to just view that from a very – from a very practical policing point of view –

Lady Hallett: That’s what I’m thinking of –

Mr Martin Hewitt: How on earth one forms a reasonable ground to suggest that somebody has or may be affected with a virus that you can’t see seems to me to be quite a challenge in a practical sense.

Lady Hallett: Sorry, I interrupted, Mr O’Connor, but I think that it is something we need to go into, about whether, if we have another pandemic, or when we have another pandemic, you have on the books ready to go legislation that is better than this.

Mr O’Connor: My Lady.

Can I, Mr Hewitt, take you back to the first question you were asked by my Lady, about consultation, and perhaps just take us out of the pandemic situation for just a moment.

In normal times, were a government department proposing a piece of secondary legislation, a regulation, which one could see the police would be involved in enforcing, would you expect there to be consultation? Perhaps that would be one of the functions of the NPCC, to engage and be involved in discussions about the drafting of a regulation such as that?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, that definitely would be the case and that is the case in normal circumstances, and that would work again through the Home Office, so the teams in the Home Office that would be – the Home Office officials that would be working on any legislative proposal would be working with the respective – the respective people within NPCC. And perhaps – I know we didn’t, if I may, not cover all of NPCC, but whilst I was the chair, and had a small team around me, the way that the NPCC operates is that all the areas, the key areas of policing will have a lead person, who will be an existing chief constable, so he or she will do their job but they will be the lead for a particular issue, and they would have people working with them, and we would be intimately engaged with the teams within the Home Office that were …

Now, of course in the coronavirus scenario that was all happening at a rapid speed, but I still think the lack of an ability for us directly to be able to give an input around the – quite frankly just the sheer practical achievement, would certainly be something that I would suggest is helpful going forward.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

If we can look at page 20 of your witness statement, paragraph 81, it’s there that you really identify this issue and you say that sometimes the notice period that you had of regulations being changed was only a few hours, therefore, perhaps obviously, no opportunity to engage at all in how that regulation might be drafted?

Mr Martin Hewitt: No.

Counsel Inquiry: And of course, as you’ve already mentioned, these are not normal times, and there might be very good reasons to need to change regulations quickly. But with your experience over the pandemic, do you think that more could have been done to arrange systems so that police input could have been more effectively or simply provided in the drafting and the thinking behind –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – these regulations?

Mr Martin Hewitt: I think more should have been done, and I think I would extend that also to actually more Home Office involvement directly as well, because my recollection was that on occasion where legislation or regulations would emerge, even the Home Office team seemed quite surprised.

And – and we put it there in hours – perhaps the best example, there was a regulation that was going to change at one minute past midnight on a particular day, and we received the signed off regulation, signed off by the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, at 11.45, so we had precisely 16 minutes. The process that we then undertook, not in that instance, but in all instances when the regulation, the signed off regulation arrived, we would then look at that, and particularly the team that were working with us from the College of Policing would work through, work through to provide the operational briefing documents that we would then send out. Those documents had to be translated into Welsh for Wales and we would then share those documents. But in that particular example where we had 16 minutes, I was – had a conversation and then was very clear with the Home Secretary at the time that we would not be enforcing that regulation on that day and it was going to take us probably, and I can’t remember how long it did, but probably 24 or 36 hours to actually get us to a place where I was confident that police officers out there knew what they needed to do.

And of course the challenge that then came with that, of course, a new regulation comes and you – at one minute past midnight and you would then get to 7 o’clock the next morning and the round of people spinning round the TV and radio studios would be talking about this, and I would be then having to go and respond and, at times, make it very clear that we weren’t – that will not be getting enforced immediately, because it was unfair to put the officers in a position where they didn’t understand precisely what they were supposed to be doing.

Counsel Inquiry: So that’s one category of challenge, which is simply the lack of earlier involvement from your teams and then the timing, similar point, the fact that –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – if you hadn’t had involvement you might even not have had notice of it and the timing issues with providing the guidance.

If we move on in your statement to paragraph 82, you there describe a different sort of challenge, which is about the substance of the regulations. In fact, in the first sentence there, perhaps you identify two different similar points. One is a difficulty where the regulations lack clarity or specificity in themselves, and secondly, or possibly additionally in some cases, where the guidance issued by the government about the regulation or government messaging is inconsistent with or goes beyond what the –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – regulation actually says.

In paragraphs 83 through to 85, you provide us with a sort of a worked example of some of these problems as they emerged, in fact in relation to one of those very early regulations, one of the ones we saw on that document, the regulation which, as it were, provided the legal backbone to the first lockdown, the regulation making it unlawful to leave your home without a reasonable excuse –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – in March 2020.

If we go on to paragraph 84, there you address the issue of what a reasonable excuse might be, and really the first point you make is that the regulations themselves contained lists of reasonable excuses but they weren’t the same in the different countries of the UK. Obviously a problem for you?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That was a problem. I think even further than the fact that they weren’t necessarily in – the same in the different countries, but even just the lack there, as I kind of point to there, any specifics, it just left a great deal for an individual – so on the first point, confusing for an individual to understand what he or she was in fact able to do, but also then created – and this point here about the lack of any specifics on how far you could travel to go and have your exercise takes me back to the example I gave earlier about the beauty spots.

Counsel Inquiry: So vagueness in the regulation, an added layer of confusion relating to the fact that specified reasonable excuses were different amongst the different nations –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – of the UK?

Then if we look at paragraph 85, an extra problem, which is the government guidance said something different again. Presumably part of the problem there was that the government guidance may not come at the same time as the regulation, it may develop over time –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – which might be a challenge if you’d already, I suppose, published those documents that we were looking at?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Very much so. And one of the real challenges for us was that the language used – and I do understand how challenging it was, but I referred a moment earlier to the sort of morning media round, and on any given day there would be a duty minister who would do the rounds to talk about where the situation was in those, and on many occasions they would – in answer to questions – and I – you know, I understand how challenging those scenarios can be, but in answer to questions they would refer to guidance as if it was regulation or vice versa, and that then would throw a whole degree of confusion out, not just in the public, and – and on a number of occasions I then found myself going and doing the sort of lunchtime media to try to say, “No, in fact that’s not – that’s not illegal, that’s the guidance says you should”.

So I do understand how challenging it was, and it did change quite regularly, but it was incredibly unhelpful – well, (a) I think unhelpful for members of the public to understand, because the vast majority of members of the public, it seemed to me, did not want to breach the regulations, did not want to be putting themselves in jeopardy, but it was incredibly confusing to understand. And then, of course, it takes you back into that othering point where people were saying, “Well, wait a minute, everyone seems to be now doing that so it’s probably okay for me to do that”, and that was really difficult.

Counsel Inquiry: Just if I may, going back to the point about the different reasonable excuses specified in the regulations and those excuses being differently specified amongst –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – the different countries –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – of the UK –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – we’ve mentioned a couple of times that the NPCC was a UK body. You’ve mentioned your liaison with the London government. Did you – were you able to take any steps with the – as it were, to try to sort of co-ordinate between the devolved nations and London and try to discourage unnecessary variation amongst the regulations?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It – it was not our position to be – to be trying to influence, directly influence the regulations. Through the – through the chief constable in Northern Ireland, the chief constable in Scotland and the four chief constables in Wales, they were all obviously working very closely with their devolved administrations and were in a position to influence in – in the way that they influenced in those jurisdictions.

I do think, kind of referring back to my Lady’s question earlier, I think there was probably closer police involvement in Scotland, Northern Ireland and in Wales. But it wasn’t my position to try to directly influence there, it was really through those chief constables with their own – with their own devolved administrations raising the issues that they felt were – but it was a source of frustration to policing throughout that you had that difference.

Clearly, you know, Northern Ireland, their primary border issue was with differences with the Republic. We had relatively limited challenges with Scotland because of the nature of the geography. With Wales there were more challenges with different regulations, different sides of what is essentially an invisible border, and that was very challenging I think for particularly a number of the Welsh forces and the English forces, where you had – where you had different regulations either side of a road.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

I want to move our discussion on a little. We’ve talked about the confusion caused by either unclear regulations or –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – inconsistent guidance from the government, and you have made the point that you believed that most people wanted to comply, but they needed to be told what compliance meant.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Perhaps it’s obvious, but help us with this: the confusion in the regulations and the guidance, was one of its consequences an impact on compliance itself?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Oh, I think definitely. It’s two things, really. The first is people genuinely at times didn’t understand where they particularly – in their particular circumstances, where they fitted. And I think what it then also did, when people felt others – because when we first went into the lockdown in March, it was such an enormous thing, and we can all remember just how empty everywhere was, but of course over a period of time that sort of certainty and that determination inevitably weakens to some extent, and then once you start having all the changes and people are a little confused about the changes, then I think it inevitably starts to erode – erode people’s commitment.

And it really is that sense of, “Well, why are we, me, my household, whoever, complying when we can clearly see that other people aren’t?”

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and just shifting focus, did it also have an effect on the morale of the police force?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It was – I was incredibly impressed with the morale that was maintained throughout the pandemic by the police service. These officers were out there doing what they were doing in the face of the – in the face of the virus all the time, and got on with that, and we worked incredibly hard to provide them with the right protection and so on.

But nonetheless, it was difficult for their morale because the more interactions with the public became more antagonistic, because people were either just fed up with the regulations or they were fed up that they didn’t feel that everyone else was following the regulations, that then inevitably saps away at the morale of the officers, who are, you know, just trying to do their job in pretty difficult circumstances.

Counsel Inquiry: I’d like to show you briefly, if I can, a newspaper article from February 2021, so the middle of the pandemic. Yes. If we could go to the second page, please.

I know you’re familiar with this article, Mr Hewitt.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, I am, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: It’s a report of a survey, we can see from the top line, of nearly 12,500 frontline officers, a survey conducted by the Police Federation.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Mm.

Counsel Inquiry: Perhaps the key finding at least that this report conveys is in the second paragraph there, which was that more than seven in ten of those 12,500 officers who had been asked had said that they were unclear and the remainder did not agree or disagree with the question of whether the Covid regulations themselves had been clear and easy to apply.

We see in the paragraph below a man called Mr Apter, the chair of the Police Federation, saying that ministers needed to avoid the same mistakes and mixed messages when agreeing future rules.

If we can scroll down a bit, we can see, yes, just coming on the page now, another quote from him which is, it says:

“Mr Apter said: ‘Given the fact that there have been more than 60 rule changes introduced during the pandemic, it comes as no surprise whatsoever that only 10 per cent of police officers who responded to our survey said they found the Covid-19 rule changes to be clear.”

So that was the small group who had actually positively said they thought it was clear.

Sorry, I meant to mention the paragraph above that as well, sorry, where another finding of this survey was that less than a quarter felt that the strategy, the “Four Es” that we’ve looked at, was effective when enforcing their powers, the inference being that because they are in fact so difficult to explain and to encourage people to use.

Then finally the paragraph below the one we looked at, Mr Apter saying:

“We have been saying from the beginning, clear guidance on what people can and can’t do is needed; otherwise people will inadvertently fall foul of the law or take advantage of the mixed messages.”

A great deal of consistency between what you have been telling us this morning and what Mr Apter has reported there?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes. I mean, I could argue statistically with some of the way it was reported, but the fact of the matter, there was no doubt. And this was at a point, and it comes in one of the sections that was highlighted there, this was at the point where there was going to be the easing and this concept of “Super Saturday”, because police officers, being police officers and practical, were kind of recognising where this was likely to go, at the point where you were suddenly going to open up nighttime economy. One of the – perhaps it’s the wrong word, but one of the pluses from the beginning was that the nighttime economy, which is a real challenge for policing, was obviously shut down.

So I think it expressed some of that frustration but it fairly expressed the challenge that officers on the ground were finding in – in how do you go and explain things which were incredibly complex and not very specific at times.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve already touched on the fact that this Inquiry has to power to make recommendations for the future. We’ve talked, first of all, about the value, the importance of a maximum degree of prior consultation with the police. Would you agree that’s something that is worth considering?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Definitely, I think it is, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Does it follow from what we have been discussing about clarity of regulations and confusion, with tension between regulations and guidance, that those are matters that also should be considered in any future pandemic, trying to keep regulations as simple as possible and avoiding conflicting guidance?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Absolutely. And I genuinely do understand the challenge that was presented and I understand and we have all seen the challenge and the debates that were going on between the – you know, the health requirements and the economic requirements and, in some sense, the political requirements, and I do get that, but I think there has to be a greater degree of a systematic process to arrive at changes.

Of course the virus changed over time and we all understand that that would happen, but really trying to anticipate and trying to get to very clear guidance as early as possible and for as long as possible staying with that guidance. Because once it started to change and then once it was really changing quite rapidly and you were getting tiers and you were getting localised, it became incredibly difficult for even a perfectly law-abiding and committed citizen to understand precisely what that meant for them, you know, in their own personal circumstances.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and that last point you made was one I was going to raise. You mentioned earlier this point about different sets of regulations being in force in really quite a small area.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: I think it’s mentioned in your statement that at one point in Greater Manchester there might have been four or five different sets of regulations, different regulations –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – in force at the same time. We have heard some evidence about tiering in the last day or so, and does it follow from your angle on this that trying to keep sort of bespoke sets of regulations within relatively small areas to a minimum, if they have to be there at all, is something we should think about for the future?

Mr Martin Hewitt: I definitely think that. And the other really important point is that we talk about these things as if there are tangible boundaries that bound a particular – as you say, within the Greater Manchester area there were a number – I think particularly about the first local lockdown, which was in Leicester, and there is no – there was no tangible boundary that – this particular part, and so you end up in the scenario where literally people on opposite sides of the same road can be in a different set of regulations.

I think – the extent to which that can be minimised I think would definitely allow – most importantly, allow people to understand it and therefore comply more effectively, but from a selfish policing point of view would make it much more straightaway to be able to undertake the policing role.

Mr O’Connor: Yes.

My Lady, I was about to move on to another topic.

Lady Hallett: Certainly. You’re all right to continue, Mr Hewitt? We take a break.

The Witness: At your discretion, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you. I shall return in 15 minutes.

(11.14 am)

(A short break)

(11.29 am)

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor.

Mr O’Connor: Mr Hewitt, I’m going to stick for the moment with the issue of regulations and the police’s role in enforcing them, but I want to move to asking you some particular questions about particular sort of areas in which regulations operated.

First of all, the question of protests and outside gatherings, and then I’ll ask you some questions about that and about how regulations applied to children.

So taking protests first, could we look, please, at paragraphs 87 and 88 of your witness statement.

Thank you very much.

Mr Hewitt, the point you make at this stage of your witness statement, first of all, is that at the outset protest activity was not one of those identified reasonable excuses for being outside the house, but that changed, and that – later in the pandemic that was added as a reasonable excuse. Is that right so right?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That is correct.

Counsel Inquiry: But you explain towards the end of paragraph 87 that it wasn’t the case simply that the regulations said you can be outside as long as you’re attending a protest, it was more complicated than that, and in fact it was only a reasonable excuse to be attending a protest if it was a protest which – and we can see the italics:

“… ‘… would satisfy the requirements of regulation 3 of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations … whether or not the gathering organiser is subject to those Regulations’ …”

I think going on to paragraph 88 you make two points, which I’ll ask you to expand on. Firstly, that to the police officer on the ground that is a very complicated test to apply when, after all, all he or she is trying to understand is whether someone is entitled to be out of the house or not.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: And secondly, perhaps given its complexity, this would have been just the sort of regulation that you might want to have been involved in drafting, and you weren’t.

Could you expand on those points for us, please?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So, yes, I would agree with that. I mean, the context is policing protest is in any situation a challenging exercise, in terms of managing the rights of people to protest, the risks involved in that, and the various responsibilities. Trying to do that in – against the backdrop of a pandemic where there are other restrictions was even further more challenging.

And then the italicised section at the end there, this fell to the police, it fell to the police to satisfy these requirements from the Health and Safety at Work Regulations, which we pushed back quite strongly that we had neither the skills nor, quite frankly, the capacity to be – to be making that sort of – that sort of decision.

Counsel Inquiry: As I’m sure we can all remember, you make the point protest is a particularly sensitive and delicate issue for policing anyway –

Mr Martin Hewitt: It is.

Counsel Inquiry: – and we can remember there were various episodes during the pandemic when this became a very difficult issue for the police.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Very. So really the beginning for that was after the awful murder of George Floyd in America and then the subsequent – the subsequent worldwide abhorrence and response to that, then we started to have to deal with the issue of Black Lives Matter protests taking place across the whole – across the whole country, and that really became the sort of crux of the challenges of working – working both within the confines of the pandemic, working with the protests themselves and working with the government in respect of those.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Another of the moments during the pandemic when protest became an issue was in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and I’m sure we’ll all recall the events, the vigil and the protest that was associated with it –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – in March 2021. So looking here, that was some time after these regulations that we’re just –

Mr Martin Hewitt: It was.

Counsel Inquiry: – looking at had been implemented, but were they still in force at that time, do you recall?

Mr Martin Hewitt: To my knowledge, they were still in force, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: I want to ask you about a WhatsApp, I’m not going to bring it up on screen, but we’ll hear more about it later, but on that day, that evening in March 2021, which was the evening of the Sarah Everard vigil, there was an exchange between a number of people who worked in Downing Street, including Boris Johnson and some of his advisers, about the developing events. During those exchanges, Lord Frost, who was at that stage a minister of state at the Cabinet Office, observed, and I’m quoting:

“Truth is the rules on outside gatherings are close to unenforceable and are evidently being widely ignored in all kinds of contexts now.”

That from a government minister. Does that reflect your experience?

Mr Martin Hewitt: The – dealing with the protest, whether it was in 2020 or subsequently in 2021, was one of the really key challenges that the police service had to face. As I think I’ve said or alluded to certainly a number of times, whilst we were having to do what we were having to do to support the Covid response, we equally had to see all of that against the backdrop of our broader policing responsibilities and the fact that we would be – carry on policing.

You mentioned earlier about the morale of officers. It’s important for people to understand how that felt for police officers when we are in a pandemic where we are talking about the requirement for people to remain distanced and then our being told to go and police a protest. So we did an enormous amount of work with scientists and others, to really try and understand the safety implications both for the protestors and for the police officers.

I remember one particular meeting where we had a number of the scientists – Professor Van-Tam chaired the meeting to talk about some of the behavioural but particularly the epidemiological elements around the virus, and the strong point that came through was that when you are outside and in the open air, the risks of transmission were much reduced, but we – and I say “we”, me at the centre, but reality, the individual forces, because they ultimately held the operational responsibility – were having to make the decisions about how they would police individual demonstrations of whichever – or individual protests of whichever sort. And those were really challenging for them to do, and particularly with their own staff as well, in that environment.

And so it became a great challenge – it became a great challenge because of the political imperatives around some of the – some of the protest and the activities that took place, and I think throughout there was – there was a confusion around where the competing legislations – well, which of the competing legislations took priority.

Counsel Inquiry: You used the word “confusion”, the word, as we’ve heard, that Lord Frost used or words was “close to unenforceable”.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Now, clearly, during the pandemic, you had a job to do and you got on with it in public, but did you use words like that behind closed doors, either about the regulations relating to outside gatherings or other gatherings?

Mr Martin Hewitt: I used very strong words behind closed doors in discussion with Home Office and with the Home Secretary at the time in relation to the situation. And equally it is important to remember – and if we take the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, the overwhelming majority of those were entirely peaceful, entirely peaceful protests where the police played a role that was required to maintain – maintain safety, and in most of the cases the people who were participating themselves were being sensible as well. So – but we were having really very strong conversations about what the expectation was, because again, I guess to reflect, if you like, Lord Frost’s comment in, I guess, the perception of the public, the public would be looking and saying, “The regulation says we can’t do this, and then over here there’s a large number of people doing precisely that”.

So I do, I get the point that he was making in that, and we were having very strong conversations about our role in those particular circumstances.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Let me move on, Mr Hewitt, and ask you about the way in which the regulations touched the lives of children.

First of all, we’ll recall when we looked at that document an hour or so ago the reference to the fact that the various different regulations did apply to children.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And we will also recall discussing that sort of central regulation prohibiting people from leaving their homes without reasonable excuse, which came in in March 2020, and then came back at various points –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – during the pandemic to enforce lockdowns.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Do you think that there was a lack of clarity, either at that early stage of the pandemic or later, around whether this rule prevented children from leaving their house to go and play, or for that matter prevented parents from leaving their house to supervise their children who were playing?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah, I mean, I think there was a lack of clarity, and, you know, we’ve rehearsed that a number of times already, but I think particularly in this instance. It’s important to be really very clear. As I said, earlier, a lot of people equate enforcement with fixed penalty notices, and there was no – we could not and would not give a fixed penalty notice to anyone that was under the age of 18, so that was not in play at all.

But where I reflect around – and it was, I guess, about more broadly about considering the impact of whatever the regulation was on different individuals, and one of the sort of points that I made on a number of occasions was: lockdown is not lockdown to everybody. Lockdown if you live in a three-bedroom house with a garden is one experience, where you have the access to open space quite legitimately whatever the rules, you have space to spread. Lockdown if you are a single parent in a small flat on the ninth floor of a block of flats is a very different experience. And I’ve seen a number of the commentaries that have come in from people talking about how they were with their children and they were then either moved on or told that they couldn’t be where they could be. And, yeah, that – there is no doubt that was a real challenge.

I’m very confident that the police officers were trying to do their best, and, as I say, this did not end up into a penalty area, but I think that clarity about what could be allowed for children – because the concept of going out to have your daily exercise is a very different thing if you’re 4 and 5 years old, it’s not going for a run or going for a walk.

So, again, that was not helpful, and again one of the challenges that puts – that puts the police officers that were on the ground in a very invidious position, where they’re asking and encouraging, and I suspect in almost all cases that encouragement would lead to the parents kind of complying, but that was a very challenging scenario for police officers.

Counsel Inquiry: You’re obviously right to say that police officers weren’t issuing fixed penalty notices to children, but, as you say, the consequence or at least the probable consequence of these regulations may have been that police officers would stop children playing, tell them to go back inside, tell their parents to go back inside?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Undoubtedly.

Counsel Inquiry: Was there guidance to that effect?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Not specifically. I mean, again it’s back to the guidance that we gave and to the “Four Es” approach, and it was about explaining, it was about encouraging. But I – you know, you can only assume that that must have felt incredibly uncomfortable for the officers, but the challenge that they had was this – this was about achieving compliance and it’s really difficult when you start – how many exceptions do you start taking a decision – and I’m sure there will be many occasions where they did make an exception and we never found out or no one ever found out about that, but the kind of stories that you – you – that I’ve seen, where people were moved on from being by a river or in a park. It was just a very challenging position for them to be in.

Counsel Inquiry: There is, of course, a broader question about whether the regulations should have applied to children at all, and the Inquiry has heard evidence that in Scotland –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Scotland.

Counsel Inquiry: – from July, I think it was, in 2020, children under 12 were exempted. That obviously wasn’t a decision for you, but was it something that you discussed with, for example, the Home Office?

Mr Martin Hewitt: We had all discussions around all the various aspects, I mean, it’s important – I either met or spoke with the Home Secretary pretty much every day for the first year of the Inquiry(sic) in one way or another, and we would constantly, through the various meetings that we all had, be discussing those issues, and I would – was aware, clearly, for the change that took place in Scotland. But certainly didn’t – didn’t push, I didn’t feel at any point really that it was my position to be pushing and suggesting. We would have the discussions and then obviously the Home Secretary would be involved in whichever discussions she was involved in at – in the centre.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. Let me move on, Mr Hewitt, and I want to move on to the question of the disproportionate impact in terms of fixed penalty notices on some groups within society.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: For these purposes can we look at page 29 of your witness statement, please. Just by way of introduction, there were two reports that –

Mr Martin Hewitt: There were.

Counsel Inquiry: – were commissioned, weren’t there, and we’re going to briefly look at both.of them.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Mm-hm.

Counsel Inquiry: The passage that we see on the screen now is introducing the first of those two reports, is it not?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, it is.

Counsel Inquiry: You state there that during the pandemic – in fact it was at an early stage of the pandemic, was it not?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Very.

Counsel Inquiry: The report we’re talking about was published in July 2020.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Counsel Inquiry: I’m not sure I know exactly when it was commissioned, presumably sort of June –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Before that, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes. We see then you’re describing a report and analysing the fixed penalty notices that had been issued, in a relatively short period of two months between towards the end of March and the end of May of that year, and you indicate that the research was undertaken by someone called Mr Flatly and Ms Currenti from the Government Statistical Service –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and peer reviewed and so on.

Before we bring the report up and have a look at it, what was it that prompted the NPCC to commission this report by these independent people?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So particularly – and I think where the findings that are particularly stark in both the reports is in relation to race and race disproportionality.

I – you know, I started working on the pandemic with sort of 20 years at least of policing experience of dealing with the challenges of the police relationship with minority communities and some of the disproportionality that exists therein, and so as soon as the pandemic started and at the point where it was very obvious that we were going to be into a space of very unusual regulations, it was clear to me that there was going to be an issue in terms of how the policing of that was done in a fair way across all communities and particularly those communities where the relationship with policing was more challenged. So that was the reason.

There were a number of things that we did. The first one was to very quickly initiate this first review that looked, for that two-month period at the very outset, to give us the picture so that we were then able to feed that back to the police forces, so they understood precisely what was going on in their own individual areas. And also importantly, one of the other things that we did at that stage was the creation of an independent ethics committee to work alongside us. I was – it was very clear that we were going to have to be going into territories that were highly unusual and some of those were going to have quite significant ethical challenges. So we pulled together a group, it was chaired by the Bishop of Manchester, and that group met for over a year on a monthly basis picking up the challenges that we presented to them, and they also did a further one later in 2021. But that was the first subject that we took to that group, was the issue around disproportionality in the issuing of the fixed penalty notices, so it was something that was very much in our minds at the outset.

Counsel Inquiry: Is it fair to say, as well as all of those things, that there had been some criticism of the NPCC about the way in which the very, very early statistics relating to disproportionate impact were presented publicly?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, and I would – I would challenge some of that challenge, in the – on the basis that I think people need to understand how difficult it was to set up this system. There was no national system for using fixed penalty notices, we had to create a system from scratch in about 36 hours that allowed us to collate all that information.

And I think the piece that you’re referring to was talking particularly from 27 March through to about mid-April, which was the first sort of four, five – three, four weeks of the pandemic, and at that stage we were – we were running to catch up or to keep up, quite frankly, in terms of not the work that we were doing necessarily but certainly the data to support and understand the work that we were doing.

So we were doing that, but I adopted a position from the very beginning of transparency about the fixed penalty notices that we issued. We produced the data that we produced, and on a monthly basis I held a conference call, and then it became a Teams call, the Crime Reporters Association, which is all of the reporters from both broadcast and print media who look after crime and policing and some of the Home Affairs, I met with them every single month and we went through, in detail, all of the statistics of the operation that we were running.

At the beginning they were very interested in how many police officers are sick and this, that and the other, but then we very quickly got into the fixed penalty notices and particularly any issues of disproportionality, either by the person who had been given the ticket, where that was – you know, not very often age, but a little bit of gender, definitely race, but also the disproportionality between different police force areas.

So we were transparent throughout the process, and we produced this first report – or the first report was produced and – as you say, I think it was 22 or 23 July. That was shared with all chief constables, it was on the NPCC website and it was public. And then we subsequently commissioned the longer –

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Martin Hewitt: – report latterly, because these issues were of great concern.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, all right. Thank you, Mr Hewitt.

I’m not going to get into that very early debate, because of course it was superseded by this report, and as you fairly say that debate really only took place because, from the outset of the pandemic, you did release the figures.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And let’s look, then, at the first report, which is document INQ000099940, please, and if we can look at page 3 of it.

I just want to pick up on a couple of points. First of all, we can see from the first paragraph there is that date range there, so a relatively limited –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – time period, just two months or so.

And it’s also – if we can look at the whole page, and pick up the first bullet point at the bottom, the authors of the report note that during that two-month period the number of fixed penalty notices issued was relatively low?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: And we will come to see that later in the pandemic the number of notices rose quite dramatically?

Mr Martin Hewitt: They did, yes.

Counsel Inquiry: So for both those reasons this first report was dealing with a fairly small sample?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It was, indeed, yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: But with that acknowledged, it’s right to say, isn’t it, that the report did demonstrate a disparity in terms of sort of ethnic group –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – of those who were receiving fixed penalty notices.

If we can look at the bottom bullet point on this same page, please, what this analysis showed was that for Asian and black people, which is sort of pulled out of the general BAME statistic, they were 1.8 times more likely to receive a notice than white people. That’s the –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – sort of headline statistic, is it not?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That is correct.

Counsel Inquiry: And if we can now just go back towards the top of the page – in fact, before we do that, that statistic itself must have prompted some concern for you?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It – absolutely it did. And, as I say, it – it really reinforced the concern that we had in the outset – at the outset, which is why we commissioned the piece of work –

Counsel Inquiry: And just to interrupt you, there are at least two concerns. One is obviously any form of –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Disproportionate –

Counsel Inquiry: – disproportionate impact is something that will mean you want to understand more –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Definitely.

Counsel Inquiry: – and understand whether something is going wrong here, but secondly, any impression of disproportionate impact is something that may well undermine public confidence in this very enforcement process that you’re trying to sustain?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah, entirely. And as importantly, public confidence in policing per se, which was one of the …

But the key point when we got that report was to ensure that that was shared immediately with the police forces, because, as I said before, ultimately it was the police forces in their own area that were out and doing the enforcement.

As the report goes on to say, there was quite a disparity between different police areas, so what we did at that stage was the report was shared with every force individually in the first instance to ensure that they recognised the statistics that were there and that that was a reflection of their activity, and then, in the second instance, for them to address those issues themselves.

And very clearly for every – we touched on it very briefly at the beginning. I created Operation Talla at the centre, but there was a replica of Operation Talla in every single police force, where they had a gold commander, a silver commander, and a structure in terms of how they were going to manage pandemic policing in their area. Every one of those was obviously looking at these issues themselves and in their own context, and the really important point was that it got out there, and they were then able to look and understand: why is this happening here? Is there something about the geography, is there something about the nature of their communities, is there something about the relationship they have with their communities, that was causing the differential? Because whilst you’ve highlighted the differential, you know, the 1.8 there, actually in the body of the report it makes it very clear that that was incredibly different –

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Martin Hewitt: – in different force areas –

Counsel Inquiry: Just pausing there, Mr Hewitt. I think it’s important that we’re clear about the limits of your –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – capacity here.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: You’ve commissioned the report, and you’re quite right to say that a thorough reading of the report gives you much more sort of – a much richer picture –

Mr Martin Hewitt: It does.

Counsel Inquiry: – than that simple headline 1.8 figure –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – and that can be helpful to the different forces that you sent it to. But did you have a role that went beyond alerting police forces to a problem, for example did you require them to respond to you or to update you with what they were doing, or was that a job for someone else?

Mr Martin Hewitt: No, the forces were always – always responding. The process that I was running was a very regular gold group with – with a range of different groups. There were a number of groups that I was chairing on a weekly basis, looking at specific issues as well.

I referred earlier to the chief officers that would be the lead for particular issues within policing. That was another group that I would engage with, so that wherever there was an issue that we felt needed that very specific focus, and obviously the issues of, you know, race and equality were key, one of those key groups, all of that work would be happening and the forces would be feeding back in. Below my level, the silver group that was operating and meeting on a daily basis would be talking about these very issues.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Because of course the other point is that they were finding their way – you know, quite a lot of the media reporting that would emerge would particularly – every time, every month when I gave the statistics, the media reporting would pick up obviously on any of the – any of the outlying – any of the outlying figures within the statistics.

Counsel Inquiry: I want to just ask you about a couple of paragraphs here. First of all, if we can look at the third paragraph down, starting “disproportionality”, we will recall of course this is an arm’s length report, it states:

“Disproportionality could legitimately result from the fair application of the regulations when sub-groups differ in their observance of the regulations or from an uneven enforcement by the police of the regulations across different sub-groups …”

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: That is a very bold explanation or statement of possible causes of disproportionate impact. But can we take it that you would not have been, and your fellow officers would not have been complacent about this: the second possibility of an uneven enforcement pattern is something that you needed to get to the bottom of, or was it?

Mr Martin Hewitt: And absolutely did. I mean, no complacency whatsoever. And that was really why I’d started making the comment about my experience. These issues are live and real at all times with police leaders, you know, regardless of the pandemic. So they were very clear that that was an issue that needed to be addressed.

There were – there were legitimate reasons why some of the disproportionality would occur because of the nature of the regulations. Some of the examples I gave about people travelling from one area to another area – there will have been – and as the – and I accept it’s not in this particular report, but when we – you know, in the subsequent report, as regulations changed and some – what became some of the flash points for people who weren’t following the regulations, again added to this.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Mr Martin Hewitt: But there was never a point where there was a disregard of the potential that some of this could be bias on the parts of the officers that were doing what they were doing.

Counsel Inquiry: Can I ask you about another paragraph which is on the next page.

Lady Hallett: Mr O’Connor, this is quite a level of detail – it’s a very important issue, of course it is, and there will be a time when I’m going to address this in a great more detail, but I’m just wondering about this level of detail for this module.

Mr O’Connor: My Lady, I have only a few more questions on this topic and I will go briefly to the second report and then –

Lady Hallett: I think we need to move on, I’m afraid.

Mr O’Connor: Yes.

Well, let me, if I may, just ask you one more question about this report –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – then I’ll take you to the other one briefly.

It’s at the top of the page. It follows from the bullet point we were just looking at about the 1.8 figure. It says:

“While the context is very different, these disparity rates are lower than for the police power of Stop and Search. The latest published official statistics on Stop and Search showed, for example, the disparity rate for all BAME people was 4.3 …”

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: The context is hugely different, isn’t it?

Mr Martin Hewitt: The context is different, I accept that, but I think – I suspect the reason that the statisticians wanted to put this into the report was they had the same recognition, as I’ve stated myself, that this is an issue that policing lives with all the time.

Stop and search is, if you like, the iconic issue in terms of disproportionality, so I suspect that’s why they wanted to find a reference point for something that was entirely novel in the sense of fixed penalty notices for Covid.

Counsel Inquiry: There wouldn’t be a suggestion that, for example, as long as one kept the disparity rates below stop and search, it wasn’t something to be too worried about?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Well, those were the words of the government statisticians, but I would never accept that, the point that you’ve just made, and we would never and we did not accept that – you know, there was a line here. The objective was, as best we could, with all the – all the issues with the regulations, we could enforce the regulations fairly across the population.

Counsel Inquiry: Just finally, then, if we can complete the story by looking at the second report –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – which is … thank you.

If we can go to page 12, this is in the executive summary, the figures here probably – precisely because the data is much richer, are a little bit more –

Mr Martin Hewitt: It is.

Counsel Inquiry: – complicated, but in summary, we look sort of three or four boxes or three or four bullet points down. Do we see that in fact the disparity rates in this report over a much longer period, a period of over a year –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: – including the same period at the beginning as had been covered by the first report, are in fact more pronounced and so, for example, we’re looking at figures in the region of sort of 2.8, 3.2 and so on?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: As opposed to the 1.8 that we’d been looking at before?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: You’ve said that in between the times of these two reports you had been taking steps, you had been discussing with local police forces, trying to improve the position.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: It looks in fact as though the position had got worse?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Well, I think there’s a number of factors there really. So first off, you’ve got a much longer period of time that’s been looked at. You’ve also got a much broader – if you think back to that first period, that first two-month period, pretty much everyone was indoors and it was incredibly quiet. When you move forward you get the different range of – you get the different range of regulations being in place, some of which actually put you into particularly challenging areas.

I think particularly the period where we were seeing large numbers of illegal music events and parties, this is aligned again with the fatigue that I guess everybody was feeling and particularly younger people were feeling. So we’ve started to see a real incidence, particularly in the big urban areas, of the kind of music parties and large numbers of people deliberately breaching all of the regulations.

You also see, and I – you know, if we mapped across the locations where you ended up with local lockdowns, the locations where you ended up with higher tier regulations remaining in place for longer periods of time, I think often you would look at those and then look at the ethnic breakdown of those groups as well. So that is immediately putting minority ethnic groups directly in contact with the police enforcing regulations.

So I think all of those factors come together. None of that is to suggest any complacency or acceptance of the disproportionality. The really important point was to have a really thorough academic review, and that review sits there now and is part of the Police Race Action Plan that I started in 2020, not related directly to Covid, that still goes on today. So that report is there. So – but I accept the figures, clearly.

Counsel Inquiry: Just finally, then, we’ve spoken about lessons that can be learnt for future pandemics in the context of the clarity of regulations and consultation and so on. In this context, disparities, no doubt one lesson would be that precisely this sort of transparency about the statistics, and the need to keep them under constant review is something that you would recommend. Are there any, briefly if you will, particular points that emerge from this process relating to disparities that you would advance as something that we can learn for the future?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So I think the point about transparency, the police and whoever is undertaking any enforcement activity, there needs to be absolute transparency about that.

I would – having been through the experience once, I would hope that there would be the ability to anticipate where likely problems and challenges will come, particularly around people moving, you know, moving in different places around the country.

And the other place, my Lady, that I would suggest the Inquiry wants to look is that work that is ongoing, and has now been ongoing for over three years in the Police Race Action Plan, will be producing changes and recommendations that will be very relevant to any policing – you know, particularly policing minority communities in any pandemic in the future. So I would certainly suggest a link across to that work that’s being undertaken.

Mr O’Connor: Yes. Thank you very much, Mr Hewitt.

My Lady, those are all the questions I had. There are some questions –

Lady Hallett: There are.

Mr Thomas.

Questions From Professor Thomas KC

Professor Thomas: Assistant Commissioner Hewitt, I represent FEHMO, the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations.

Now, I’ve only got a handful of questions for you, and I won’t take up too much of your time, but can I just start with a little bit of context for my questions.

We can agree on this, can’t we, that these were unprecedented challenges posed by Covid and the pandemic and that police officers and police forces were having to grapple with a multitude of issues including the enforcement of public health regulations; we can agree on that?

Mr Martin Hewitt: We can agree on that.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes. And we can also agree that police agencies play a crucial role in ensuring compliance with these regulations, often implementing strategies to maintain social order and public safety?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Correct.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes. And you would accept, would you not, that this has to be done in a fair and transparent way without discriminating against certain groups in society?

Mr Martin Hewitt: I agree.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes. However, the pandemic response highlighted disparities in the enforcement of Covid-19 regulations, especially affecting minority ethnic communities?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That’s correct, that’s what I’ve just said to Mr O’Connor.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes. Concerns arose regarding those ethical implications, these disparities, prompting oversight bodies and committees such as the independent ethics committee to address these concerns and guide enforcement agencies in their responses.

So it is in this context that FEHMO seeks to shed a little light on the strategies employed by the law enforcement agencies, especially the National Police Chiefs’ Council, NPCC, in addressing these ethical implications.

Now, the independent ethics committee played a pivotal role during the pandemic, providing valuable guidance, did it not, on addressing these ethical implications –

Mr Martin Hewitt: A number of implications, yes.

Professor Thomas KC: Now, it’s imperative to understand how the committee specifically contributed to addressing any disparities in the enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations, particularly among ethnic minority communities. So here are my questions.

Number one, how did the independent ethics committee actively contribute to addressing the ethical implications arising from disparities in policing and enforcing Covid-19 regulations, specifically concerning ethnic minority communities?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So, the way the process worked, we anticipated from the outset that there would be a number of challenges when we were in, as you described, this kind of novel situation. So we needed a group that were able to provide a very independent and a very diverse – in my statement I think it lists the members of that group, an incredibly diverse challenge into me and those that were taking the very difficult decisions that we needed to take as we went through.

We would pose questions – they met monthly. From July 2020 they met every month through till July 2021, and they did one exceptional meeting in December of 2021, and those groups would have a free ranging challenging discussion about not only what we were – often what we were raising were questions of “We are now facing this challenge and we are thinking we might go this way, that way, what do you think?” So they would be able to challenge that. They would then feed in their views.

On the point of race disparity and the FPNs, to my recollection that came back on four occasions. It was the – on the first occasion it was the subject we wanted to talk about. And I’m pretty sure it came back at least three or four occasions subsequently because the ethics committee themselves wanted to come back and kind of challenge and test where were we, what was happening.

They were obviously aware that we had commissioned the first report and we reported on the first report pretty much just as they came into existence, so that started that initial conversation, and then they were aware that we commissioned the second piece of work as well.

Whatever came out of their meetings, which were fully minuted, would then feed into our structures, and would be shared and pushed out in the way that we were pushing out all of the information about how we did what we did. And then where that also went, and I haven’t mentioned it thus far at all, is we set up a number of knowledge-sharing, learning processes throughout the whole pandemic, very early on we created a specific piece of work to learning the lessons going forward.

So all of the outcomes from the ethics committee and all the other work that was going on would feed into those as well, which would find its way out into forces, either in terms of information or in terms of how to undertake the following activities, whatever they may be, in a Covid background.

So it was a – it was a very live and continuous process, and we were very fortunate that the people that we had on that committee were, you know, strong, independent-minded people, and that was really the whole purpose of setting it up, to give us that completely external challenge from the – in a sense, the kind of bubble that we were in, trying to do what we were doing and working with government.

Professor Thomas KC: Thank you.

You may have touched upon my second question but I’m going to ask it in any event, just to see if there is anything you wish to add.

Can you provide details about specific measures or initiatives undertaken by the NPCC to engage with and involve representatives from minority ethnic communities and organisations with the aim of addressing their concerns and building trust during the enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So, the reality is that where that was happening – where that was happening primarily at my level was working – and one of the groups that I worked through very much at the national level was through the National Black Police Association, so NBPA not only, obviously, represents black officers within policing but it also has incredible links externally. So I worked with them at that national level.

What we were – what I was requiring and what was happening at every individual force level, as you’ll be aware, in every individual police force they will have a range of mechanisms through which they communicate and work with minority communities, a whole range of boards and groups that they – so they were doing that, because the reality, as I said, in answer to one of Mr O’Connor’s questions, that this was happening on the ground in a police force area, which I obviously couldn’t control.

So we were doing all of that.

And just let me refer again to the Police Race Action Plan which I’ve referred to, and I think it is important in the context of your questions. The murder that happened in America created what we all saw and understood, and I then very quickly that June pulled together all of the chief constables from across the country and we had two half-day sessions where we not only looked at the issues from our perspective but we also had a large number of our – every chief constable brought three or four black members of staff into those meetings – they were virtual obviously – into those meetings to express their views about where we were in terms of our relations with the black community, particularly the black – the African Caribbean community particularly, and out of that emerged the Police Race Action Plan, which – which has worked through and still goes on today.

So those are some of the really – the practical things that happened as a result of the disparities that we were identifying.

Lady Hallett: Mr Hewitt, I’m afraid Mr Thomas has limited time so if you could make your answers a little bit shorter –

Mr Martin Hewitt: I apologise.

Lady Hallett: – I’m sure he’d be very grateful.

Professor Thomas: I’m grateful, my Lady.

I’ve only got three questions left. Let me see if I can get to them.

Was there any training or guidance provided to officers on how to ensure proportionate and non-discriminatory enforcement of the Covid-19 regulations, especially when interacting with ethnic minority individuals?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Not specifically, because that responsibility exists in all of their policing activity, so in that sense there was nothing specific that was around Covid.

Professor Thomas KC: Even after the disproportionality became apparent?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It – there was always the absolute acceptance and, quite frankly, the legal requirement that they undertook their actions in – under the Equalities Act, so there was no – there was no additional guidance, which is your question.

Professor Thomas KC: Let me move on.

How were police officers equipped with resources, tools, platforms to access this information? Moreover, how were they encouraged to stay up to date with legislative changes related to the Covid regulations, particularly concerning the nuances in the law and the regulations?

Mr Martin Hewitt: So there was an entire array of communication processes that went on. Everything that came out from the centre went to every force, went to the Operation Talla in every force. Police officers were getting – any updated briefing that was required would happen at the beginning of their shift. By that stage, in 2020, most police officers had some form of mobile capability whether it was a mobile phone, an iPad or whatever, and so all of that, all of the information that we were provided – were providing, should I say, was provided directly to those systems as well. So everybody had access to that information. There were websites on the College of Policing with all the information, a Covid hub where you could access all the information, and it was being put through the normal briefing processes for officers.

Professor Thomas KC: Finally, did the NPCC or police forces conduct any comprehensive evaluation or assessments to determine the effectiveness of the “Four Es” approach, briefing materials and influencing public compliance with the Covid regulations especially within minority ethnic community? If not, why not? And if it did, please explain how.

Mr Martin Hewitt: I am not aware of a specific piece of research that looked at the “Four Es” as a model. Clearly you will have seen in the second report on disproportionality they focus on that, but I’m not aware – there may well have been, but I’m not aware of a piece of academic work to understand whether they were – it was an effective mechanism.

Professor Thomas: My Lady, those are the questions I ask.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Thomas.

Ms Davies.

Questions From Ms Davies KC

Ms Davies: Thank you, my Lady.

Mr Hewitt, I represent Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid, who, as you know, are part of the violence against women and girls sector.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: So my questions are on domestic abuse.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: If I can take you to your witness statement, page 24, which is INQ000216925, page 24, paragraph 109. Do you have it?

Mr Martin Hewitt: We’re not … page …

Ms Davies KC: 109 has come up.

Mr Martin Hewitt: Okay, yeah, I’ve got 109 there. It’s not on 24, but …

Ms Davies KC: You tell us that:

“The COVID-19 restrictions meant that those crimes that occurred in the home and online appeared to increase. Early reports from China and Italy, who imposed lock down early on, indicated a significant increase in domestic abuse (DA) cases.”

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yeah.

Ms Davies KC: So you were aware that there could be an increase in domestic abuse as a result of, shall we say, social isolation, even before lockdown?

Mr Martin Hewitt: We were very aware of that in the outset in terms of our preparation, both for domestic abuse and also, for that matter, for child abuse as well, where it was clear we were going to end up in a situation where people were confined. And if that place was the place where some of those offences were taking place and the vulnerability existed, then clearly we were aware of that from very early on. In advance, quite frankly.

Ms Davies KC: And you were aware of that because of the reports coming from other countries, and also it’s kind of obvious?

Mr Martin Hewitt: It was self – you know, from my professional experience, it was self-evident that we were going to end up in some sort of lockdown and that that lockdown was going to put vulnerable people at a higher risk.

Ms Davies KC: Yes. You told us this morning that you brought, I think, the chief constables together –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: – to start planning in very early March, so would it be fair to say that in very early March, when you are planning, one of the things that you’re thinking about is the possible increase in domestic abuse?

Mr Martin Hewitt: And – absolutely. And I’ve referred a number of times to the individual leads that the NPCC have, and so in this – in these two instances the assistant commissioner, Louisa Rolfe, from the Met, was the lead for domestic abuse, and then chief constable, as was then, Simon Bailey, was the lead for child abuse, and we were engaging very closely with both of them, who were then engaging with all of their structures and all the other groups and organisations that they worked in within those sectors to start talking and thinking about how we were going to find a way to properly protect people in an environment that we feared was going to come.

Ms Davies KC: If we can go to the next paragraph in your witness statement, I don’t know if we still have that page up, paragraph 110, you tell us that the college regularly met with the domestic abuse charity sector:

“These meetings identified significant changes in the number and nature of demand …”

That’s once lockdown starts.

“… and as a direct result …”

Of those significant changes and of your meetings, presumably; yes?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, so not just the college but also, as I say, the leads for domestic abuse were – were meeting and trying to work through, and I was working then with the Home Office and – and, I have to say, the Home Secretary at the time was very, very engaged with the issue of the threat around particularly domestic abuse and child abuse but particularly domestic abuse as well.

Ms Davies KC: And we’re about to hear from her, in fact –

Mr Martin Hewitt: I suspect you will.

Ms Davies KC: – yes.

“… as a direct result, the government carried out publicity campaigns to highlight [domestic abuse] risks and encouraged victims to report.”

So that’s your point.

Helpful on publicity campaigns, can you tell us if there was also any guidance published by the college for potential victims of domestic abuse?

Mr Martin Hewitt: There was – there was repeated guidance – as I’ve said, we had a number of mechanisms through which we were sharing information, because if – you will obviously recall at the time there was a lot of media coverage about concerns, a lot of the support organisations and charities were publicly talking about the increase in people coming and speaking to them.

So we produced a range of guidance about how best you can deliver services in a Covid environment, how you can work with all of the other agencies that are there to provide services to protect people, and then even into the really practical of how do you go and – how do you go and deal with an issue when you actually turn up at the house. Because quite clearly there were going to be occasions where we needed to go and intervene in the way that we ordinarily would do, and we needed to equip officers to understand how you did that in a Covid environment, because what we clearly didn’t want to be doing was going and actually spreading the infection and so on.

So it was very complex but there were repeated throughout the period new pieces of information and guidance.

We created the learning process that I described and part of that was sharing good practice, so where we found somewhere where they had worked up a really good way of operating with other agencies, we then made sure that that was shared with other police forces, so that we were trying to do the best that we could do in the circumstances that we had.

Ms Davies KC: That’s helpful, thank you.

Was there any guidance for potential victims of domestic abuse so that they could find out quickly whether or not, for example, they would be within the regulations to leave home?

Mr Martin Hewitt: That –

Ms Davies KC: Was there any guidance to the public?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes. That guidance did come out – it did come out, and I think I recall in the first – in the very first set of regulations that one of the – one of the exceptions was if it was staying indoors, if it – unless it was unsafe to do so. So that came –

Ms Davies KC: Mm, so risk of harm?

Mr Martin Hewitt: The risk of harm point.

Where we would often, and where we did, but in ordinary circumstances, would try to mediate is through – through support groups, through the charities, through those people that are – that are clearly engaged, but we would be feeding through them but also giving our own messages.

And throughout the pandemic I did three of the podium briefings at Downing Street and I’m pretty certain to say in every one of those three one of the things that I said was making it very clear that anybody who felt unsafe was to – was to take action to make themselves safe and to come to the police.

Ms Davies KC: You talk about guidance to colleagues and police officers, that’s actually at paragraph 79 of your statement, which is page 17 of it.

I don’t know if we can have that up?

And you give us – do we have it?

Paragraph 79. I don’t think that’s page 17 –

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, 79 there.

Ms Davies KC: Ah. You talk about the guidance in some detail:

“Responding to domestic abuse;

“Referral support for victims …”

So again that’s for police officers.

Was that guidance drawn up with domestic abuse charities, stakeholders and so on?

Mr Martin Hewitt: Yes, everything that we draw up in that arena through our leaders, the people who lead thematically for that, is done in conjunction with those, with those groups.

Ms Davies: Thank you very much.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Ms Davies.

Thank you very much indeed for your help, Mr Hewitt.

The Witness: Thank you, my Lady.

(The witness withdrew)

Mr Keith: My Lady, the next witness is Dame Priti Patel, if she could be sworn, thank you.

Dame Patel

DAME PRITI PATEL (affirmed).

Questions From Lead Counsel to the Inquiry

Mr Keith: Could you commence your evidence, please, by giving us your full name?

Dame Patel: Yes, my name is Priti Patel.

Lead Inquiry: Dame Priti, thank you for the provision of your witness statement, we needn’t go through it in detail, or even look at the declaration.

You were good enough and those who advise you were good enough to also provide the Inquiry with detailed witness statements from Patricia Hayes, the former Home Office second permanent secretary, called the Home Office Module 2 core statement, and also a statement from the former director general of the Border Force, Paul Lincoln, as well as a timeline, so thank you for all those documents.

I want to ask you first, please, about your career. You were, I think, between July 2014 and May 2015 the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury. Between May 2015 and July 2016 you were minister of state for employment. From July 2016 to December 2017, Secretary of State for International Development. And then, for our purposes the most relevant feature of your career, you were Secretary of State for the Home Department from 24 July 2019 until 6 September 2022.

Dame Patel: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: And therefore you were Home Secretary during the entire currency of the crisis.

The responsibilities of the Home Secretary are set out in your witness statement at paragraph 13. May we please have that up.

It will appear on the screen in front of you, Dame Priti, in a moment.

The Home Secretary has responsibility, of course, overall responsibility for all Home Office business, and therefore you had overall responsibility for the Home Office response to Covid-19.

We can see there the wide range of functions for which the Home Office is responsible. I don’t suppose those are all its functions, but they are the main functions, are they not?

Dame Patel: They are predominantly the functions of the – and responsibility of the Home Secretary, and clearly there is much more, including national security, it touches on there, but many other elements that are cross – cross-government effectively.

Lead Inquiry: It is, of course, the lead government department for immigration, passports, drugs policy, crime, fire, counter-terrorism –

Dame Patel: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: – and police. So to a very large extent the Home Office is responsible for not operational matters necessarily, but the overall enforcement or compliance with criminal legislation, with, bluntly, obeying the law?

Dame Patel: So, absolutely. I would also describe the Home Office as an operational department primarily because functions, whether they’re at the border, with Border Force, but also within our visa system, are very much based on processes, so operational, passports, et cetera.

And then, as I’ve just touched upon, working across government departments, yes on criminal justice matters with the MoJ, the Attorney General, but even, as we’ll come to discuss later on, other government departments on vulnerabilities, for example, on accommodation, a whole range of areas which do feature throughout this whole period of the pandemic.

Lead Inquiry: Indeed.

If we look down the list, we can see at (ii):

“Reducing and preventing crime … ensuring people feel safe in their homes …”

And at (vii):

“Securing the UK border and controlling immigration.”

Dame Patel: That’s right.

Lead Inquiry: Putting aside the UK border issue, for which the Home Office had a direct operational role and an enforcement role, and just focusing on the reduction and prevention of crime, it is obvious that during the pandemic, during the coronavirus crisis, a large number of regulations were drawn up in order to be able to regulate the behaviour of the population and to provide sanction for breaches of the law relating to their conduct.

The Home Office plainly played a role in the drafting or the promulgation of those regulations. It was aware that this process was going on. But who or which department actually drafted the coronavirus health protection restriction regulations and the like?

Dame Patel: So those regulations were solely the domain of the Department for Health and Social Care, and that – that was the case throughout the pandemic. And interestingly enough, even just speaking about the responsibilities of the Home Secretary, from a policing perspective, we were the people, myself as Home Secretary, my policing minister, but my incredible officials, actually, we had a very strong team, and you would have seen that through the cross-referencing with Tricia Hayes’ witness statement. We had a very significant team, a crime prevention fire group as they were called, CPFG, that would work across government, through the Cabinet Office and then with the Department of Health and Social Care, primarily because the police, as I’m sure you’ve discussed this morning, had to operationalise many of the regulations, and at the same time there was a lot of guidance that was produced for police forces to then help them with regulations.

Lead Inquiry: Bluntly, the Home Office and the police forces and chief constables worked together very closely indeed. Chief constables and the NPCC and police forces would come to the Home Office and say, “We need guidance in relation to these regulations. What do they mean? What is the process by which these regulations are being drawn up?” And presumably the Home Office acted as an interface with the DHSC to say, “This is the position”?

Dame Patel: So absolutely on the interface point. I think some context may be helpful in terms of our overall way of working. Our CPFG group, my officials at the time, myself as Home Secretary, my policing minister, we had set up a very cheer structure of working with the police, so I would suggest, and in fact it’s very obvious, we had a very close partnership working relationship with the police, we would hold regular meetings, in fact they then became Zoom calls. I would speak to the police near enough every single day: we’d have operational calls with the police twice a week, with different chief constables, with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the police commissioner, the National Crime Agency, every single aspect of law enforcement that would sit under our umbrella. And we would effectively work together – I would listen to representations, concerns, all based around the practicalities of enforcement.

But we were learning all the time, because one of the key features of this particular period, although there was no business as usual per se, policing still had to carry on, policing changed but there was still law enforcement operations taking place.

I’m not sure if the Inquiry is aware, but we had one of the largest law enforcement operations in the history of this country take place during the pandemic and that was called Operation Venetic, and I think to this day there are still prosecutions of known individuals taking place. So there was a vast array of policing activity going on and I feel that the Home Office led a very significant but actually a structured way of working with law enforcement. And by law enforcement I mean our police and our agencies, our security agencies were part of that as well.

Lead Inquiry: We will come back to the issue of public health policing in a moment, but in reality, if concerns were raised with the Home Office about the drafting of the regulations or their effectiveness or the degree of complexity or confusion to which they gave rise, giving then rise to issues about enforcement, was the job of actually drafting those regulations within the role of the Home Office? Was it within your gift to be able to change the regulations, to propose different drafts, or was the drafting itself exclusively within the DHSC?

Dame Patel: So the drafting was not within the Home Office. It was very much within the Department of Health and Social Care. Our interface across government was very much in terms of effectively being an advocate. We’re practical people in the Home Office, our role was very much to bring to light the practical realities of what – the direction of travel – in fact, you know, certain stages throughout the pandemic, what was working and what was not working around enforcement and the application of regulations from policing. And on that basis, from day one – I’ve said this publicly many times – we’d asked the police to almost do the impossible, and we were there to effectively bring – give them the voice that was needed across government.

Lead Inquiry: It’s obviously the case that there was a vast amount of communication, and a great deal of paperwork generated in this interface as to how the regulations should be drafted, whether they were appropriate, whether they could be improved and so on.

Do you happen to know whether or not it was DHSC officials or advisers who actually drew up the secondary legislation or whether or not they would have had recourse to Parliamentary Counsel? Who produced the wording in the regulations?

Dame Patel: So I – I’m going to make quite a wide assumption here, having been involved in drafting legislation myself and having gone through the legislative processes before I even came to the Commons, that Parliamentary Counsel would have had a role, there’s no doubt about that, but central to all of this the Cabinet Office would have been pivotal in terms of setting up the environment for drafting the legislations, also going through some of the clearance processes, but ultimately the department which would hold the pen would be the Department for Health and Social Care.

Lead Inquiry: Do you happen to know whether or not, because we’re dealing here in the main with secondary legislation, the statutory instruments, the DHSC would have had more of a role in the drafting than perhaps would have been the case with primary legislation, which, as you, if I may say so, correctly observe is within the role of Parliamentary Counsel?

Dame Patel: I would say so, yes.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

Now coming back to paragraph 13 and (vii), “Securing the UK border and controlling immigration”, the Home Office role is greater in this sphere, is it not, because in relation to the border, the Home Office is directly concerned with the operationalisation and enforcement of health measures at the UK border?

Dame Patel: So on that basis of course the Home Office is responsible, as outlined here, in the point on securing the UK border and controlling immigration, through the policy levers that the Home Office has.

When it comes to health measures at the border of course that is a piece, effectively, or an aspect, of border measures, not border control but border measures, that also is the responsibility – it crosses over into the public health territory, with the Department of Health and Social Care. And that’s an important distinction because we do not hold the legislative levers around the public health measures.

Lead Inquiry: And is that why, as is well known, the DHSC is responsible for port health measures? To what extent do airports fall within ports? Is the DHSC responsible for public health measures in airports as well as ports? Are airports ports?

Dame Patel: So effectively, and this is down to my recollection and understanding at the time, Department of Health and Social Care, that is correct, were responsible for port health measures, and in fact they stood up port health officials at, I’m pretty certain, maritime ports and airports. Because of course you have to have that differentiation between the port health individuals and Border Force. Border Force have very clear responsibilities, whether it’s at maritime ports or in airports but more broadly at the border.

Lead Inquiry: And of course in the mix as well there is the Border Agency, which practically, of course, carries out border duties on the border. Is that within the political control of the Home Office, or is that an entirely independent agency?

Dame Patel: So Border Force, and clearly the head of Border Force at the time was Paul Lincoln, would absolutely be part of the Home Office and responsible, accountable, working with myself and our ministers, and our BICS team and Border Force team within the Home Office.

Lead Inquiry: In terms of the overarching requirement to draw up and draft regulations in terms of the operationalisation of those regulations and in terms of the enforcement of regulations, you must have reflected that this was a particularly complicated framework?

Dame Patel: So, very candidly, I mean, I do recall some of those discussions and I do also recall what a fraught period that was within government at that time. We’re speaking now very much about the first quarter, the early – in fact the first month of the pandemic effectively, January 2020, and of course with all of that there were a range of border measures that were discussed, I’m sure you’ve touched on them already within this Inquiry, but we had a clear role, effectively, of helping and supporting the repatriation of UK citizens from abroad during the month of January 2020, that was clearly a key thing –

Lead Inquiry: I’m going to come to some specific measures in a moment, Dame Priti, if I may.

Can I ask you, before we look at those, though, about the overarching approach to borders.

Border control is undoubtedly a divisive issue. It’s politically quite a sensitive issue. In the framework of the coronavirus crisis it was not just a political issue but very much a public health matter as well. We’re going to see in a moment how the Home Office receive advice from NERVTAG and SAGE and from your own Chief Scientific Adviser within the Home Office as to what could be done about borders.

So I want to ask you: to what extent were decisions concerning borders and restrictions and closures or whatever they may be driven by political considerations as opposed to pure public health matters?

Dame Patel: So, I don’t think there’s a straightforward answer to that at all, because there were live discussions across government during that period. As I’ve just mentioned, it was a fraught time, the world was changing quite rapidly, we could see some countries doing different things while at the same time we all witnessed very terrible scenes on our TVs, you know, of the impact of coronavirus around the world in certain countries.

Our hands, I think, were effectively forced, really, because of Wuhan, what was happening in China, and that led to a series of measures, they’re documented in some of the evidence statements that have been provided, around borders, visas, et cetera, so there were a range of discussions, and I can absolutely categorically state – at an official level across government in particular – so I had one official, Paul Lincoln, permanent secretary at the time, others were in active discussions around what this meant in terms of public health, what it meant in terms of our day-to-day operations within government, for example. I mean, I went on and I think it may be touched on in one of the witness statements to look at our resilience plans, for example, what would be business as usual for our department.

Bear in mind the political context of the time, January 2020, we’d just had an election in 2019, I was due to actually implement legislation around immigration, so ending free movement, the Immigration Bill we were working on through that period.

So, you know, there were live discussions. You could argue in some quarters they were political, absolutely they were political for obvious reasons, while at the same time we were having practical discussions every single day with officials and ministers, certainly within my department, and officials were having cross-government discussions, around some of the implications, the health situations we’re seeing and where this could eventually go.

Lead Inquiry: May I just pause you there.

In light of what was obviously a very complex scenario, with competing considerations, some public health, some political, some immigration, obviously the critical issue of applying public health restrictions whilst maintaining a critical flow of supplies and trade and food and medicines and critical goods, was it the case that in the Home Office, as with other government departments, you had to start your assessment of how all these competing considerations could be brought together and resolved from scratch? There was no guide or, to use an inappropriate expression, a playbook for how, in the face of an oncoming viral pandemic, decisions could or should be taken about what to do about borders. You had to really start from the beginning and see where you went?

Dame Patel: I can understand why externally that may be the view and the perception, but there had been work that was undertaken by previous governments, and I’d not been in those discussions, around what to do if there was an influenza pandemic, for example, I think Ebola has been touched on as another example, and there had been – and I am aware of this because I was involved in a conversation in January involving one of my officials at the time – work had been taken, undertaken in the past. So we can’t just say that, you know, fast forward to the pandemic, it was just a blank sheet of paper. There were processes in terms of understanding what could and couldn’t be done.

I think within the context of the coronavirus pandemic, which was different for lots of reasons that you are discussing in this Inquiry, there were measures that were simply not available to us in terms of health measures, identification of coronavirus at the border, for example. I remember having one of those discussions with Professor John Aston at the time in the Home Office.

Lead Inquiry: Just pause there, was he the Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser?

Dame Patel: That’s correct, yes.

Lead Inquiry: Nevertheless, Dame Priti, although there may have been processes in place, and plainly it would be absurd to imagine there were no processes at all in place for determining how to deal with borders, at least within the Home Office, in the face of any sort of crisis, there were no sophisticated or developed plans setting out, perhaps by way of a step-by-step process, “This is what you do to borders in terms of screening, or restrictions, or quarantine or closure, in the event that there is a viral pandemic or epidemic identified offshore, in Europe or the rest of the world, and a clear indication that it’s coming”. You had to effectively sit down and work out step by step what you should do?

Dame Patel: I think that’s fair, I do think that’s fair. And that’s a process of iteration where we’re constantly asking questions. As I said, we’re a practical department, so on that basis, constantly asking challenging questions, a lot of it around technical capability as well as the powers that we may have within the immigration sphere and the border sphere and powers that we may not have.

Lead Inquiry: Indeed.

Your witness statement at paragraph 28 makes plain that on 10 January the Home Office provided route-specific passenger data to Public Health England, and on 3 February you paused the processing of visa applications from any individual who had travelled through or been resident in Wuhan or the Hubei Province.

And that hold on processing was extended to another country, and then of course everything was swept away by the impact of the lockdown.

Could you just make plain, though, that the efficacy of that second measure, the pausing of the processing of visa applications, had a direct impact on the number of persons who could then enter the United Kingdom from that region? You don’t need to stop people at the border to stop them coming to the United Kingdom, you can pause the processing of visa applications and that has a significant practical impact?

Dame Patel: That is correct.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

At paragraph 33, you make plain that following the World Health Organisation’s announcement of a novel coronavirus on 9 January, as you’ve mentioned, Border Force officials began providing passenger data for routes specified. What was the purpose of that? How did that help in the defence of the realm in relation to the oncoming virus?

Dame Patel: So, it was self-evident at this stage, increasingly, that there were hotspots, known hotspots, particular countries, around the world, where coronavirus was clearly a major problem, and of course that information was really pivotal to the Department of Health, Public Health England in particular, in anticipation of potential other measures, but also people travelling back to the United Kingdom, in terms of community transmission, for example, and that became quite a topic of conversation, certainly throughout January but in February and in March, clearly from a scientific perspective, with regard to that reproduction value, the R value, and also what that would mean in terms of public health measures domestically, and then of course the whole challenge that the Department of Health had, which was managing the capacity within the NHS.

Lead Inquiry: Was it the position, Dame Priti, that throughout the crisis the Home Office was guided in relation to decisions in relation to the United Kingdom border by advice from NERVTAG, then SAGE, and of course your own departmental officials, in particular the Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Aston, whom you’ve mentioned?

Dame Patel: That’s absolutely correct.

Lead Inquiry: In paragraph 34, and in particular 35, do you therefore make plain that decisions as to whether or not screening measures could be put in place, for example temperature checks, decisions as to whether or not there could be any sort of proportionate or percentage reduction in the number of passages through the borders, travellers through the borders, and ultimately questions about closure or quarantine, were all significantly guided by the scientific advice: would it work?

Dame Patel: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: Were you placed in a position, in effect, of being informed that screening, temperature checks, seeing whether people were displaying symptoms, was practically ineffective because symptoms can be suppressed and screens aren’t effective, a significant closure of the border would be unlikely to delay the onset of the virus significantly, and would be extremely difficult, and would have terrible ramifications in terms of the passage of people and trade, and there was no real question ever of being able to shut the borders completely and having in place a quarantine system because the practicalities of that had never been worked out?

Dame Patel: So, that’s absolutely correct, and all the evidence and the documents that have been supplied to the Inquiry show that very clearly, and the advice that I received, and I think was shared widely across government at the time, showed that it would have a minimal impact in terms of preventing the spread of the virus, in terms of community transmission.

And importantly, I also recall receiving in advice to me that it would not actually even assist the NHS in terms of preparations, the time that they would need in terms of coping around the number of people that were coming into the NHS.

And I think there are a couple of other important points to make around the documentation and the evidence and the advice that’s that was being provided.

The advice is one aspect of this, but actually coming back to the practicalities of trying to put in technical measures to, I think the term was used, heat test people that were coming through the border, government did not have that capability. And that became self-evident very early on. I was picking up conversations and information from particularly Cabinet Office, through some of the meetings that we were involved in then, that they did not have the technical capability.

Then of course there would be this murky about, who would have responsibility for what, and would you then bring in public health officials. Is it going to work? How much information can you actually operationalise at the border and would that be practical?

Then of course I was heavily involved in – this would be of no great surprise, I was heavily involved in the discussions around critical supplies, so even speaking to counterparts in Europe, for example, our French colleagues, and my colleagues within Border Force, so that would have been Paul Lincoln’s team in particular, they’d be speaking to their opposite numbers in France, primarily because we could see pressures in France at their border and all sorts of restrictions that they were encountering that could actually have a pretty devastating impact upon critical goods and supplies coming into the United Kingdom, and of course that would have ramifications whether it was in the NHS, food supplies, all sorts of things. So we had a lot of intensive work across government taking place very specifically in that area.

Lead Inquiry: Just before the break, just drawing the threads of the advice that the Home Office received together, your statement makes plain that at a relatively early stage, in fact on 3 February, the Home Office had received advice, I think ultimately from SPI-M-O, to the effect that there may – and I emphasise “may”, because it wasn’t in fact until later in February that this was confirmed, but that there may already be sustained community transmission in the United Kingdom. So obviously that had a direct impact on the sense or efficacy of putting into place border arrangements?

Dame Patel: And that really summed up the situation, and the evidence was there, and I think even in terms of community transmission, but the number of people that were clearly falling ill was demonstrating that impact within the NHS.

And even – well, I know we’ll come on to that –

Lead Inquiry: That, I think if I may interrupt, was at a later stage. There wasn’t really an impact to the NHS at that stage?

Dame Patel: Not at that stage but that’s effectively what the information was alluding to, that clearly community transmission was starting to pick up, and therefore all the subsequent – any measures at the border would simply not have made a difference at that stage.

Lead Inquiry: Then moving forward to the time of the lockdown, 23 March, did the Home Office receive from SAGE advice that, by that stage, closing the borders completely or perhaps with a quarantine system to back it up would have a negligible impact on the spread of the virus because the number of people coming in through an open border at the end of March would only comprise a tiny proportion of the overall number of people in the United Kingdom who were already infected?

Dame Patel: And – yes, and on that basis as well people had started to reduce their travel. So we saw internationally other countries were bringing in their own travel restrictions, so that in its own right was working through the system at that particular time.

Lead Inquiry: So finally on this topic of borders, the position that the Home Office and the government confronted or had to face in February/March 2020 was that there was a distinct absence of practical capable to be able to restrict the infection through the border, and secondly there was no sophisticated or effective system already thought about, drawn up, and ready to be put into place when the virus emerged?

Dame Patel: I think that’s absolutely correct, and with that no technical capability and I think the capability, technical skills, there are things that we’ll come on to later, passenger locator form was one example of that, but at that stage the skills and capability certainly weren’t there.

Mr Keith: My Lady, is that a convenient moment?

Lady Hallett: Certainly it is.

I’m sorry, I think you were warned that you may have to go – I’m so sorry about it. I shall return, because we have been overrunning – another apology, a slightly shorter lunch – at 1.50.

Mr Keith: Thank you.

(1.00 pm)

(The short adjournment)

(1.50 pm)

Mr Keith: Dame Priti, I’d like to turn now, please, to the subject of hidden harms.

You have very helpfully in your statement set out a number of ways in which you personally have campaigned for the victims of crime and abuse, including those persons who are the victims of domestic and child abuse, and other vulnerable groups.

This Inquiry and this module in particular is concerned only with the core political and administrative decision-making, and therefore of course – and this is the paradigm – the decisions to lock down, and therefore the Inquiry is concerned specifically with the topic of: to what extent were the needs and the position of victims of abuse considered in the decision-making when those momentous decisions were taken?

The starting point appears to be, and it’s at paragraph 76 of your statement, that there was no pre-existing plan, within the Home Office at any rate, to protect vulnerable people who might be required to stay at home in the event of a lockdown.

That of course was because there had been very little, if any, thinking about the practicalities of a lockdown at all.

So was the Home Office obliged to consider this issue at speed, at pace, and, if so, when was the main body of work done on the potential impact of a lockdown decision and the impact on vulnerable groups and, in particular, victims of hidden harms? When was that thinking done?

Dame Patel: So, I think it’s fair actually to give – give a lot of credit to the Home Office in this entire area, even before the pandemic, primarily because, prior to myself becoming Home Secretary, we were due to implement and bring in the Domestic Abuse Bill, so there was a great deal of work already under way around vulnerabilities and domestic abuse.

Lead Inquiry: I’m sorry to interrupt. That is given and the Inquiry understands that. Of course there was a developed and sophisticated system in place already, no doubt under the governance of the Home Office, to deal with the victims of abuse, and the Domestic Abuse Bill is well known.

But the lockdown decisions –

Dame Patel: Sure.

Lead Inquiry: – were of course of a very different order and the impacts were likely to be very considerable and without the experience of the United Kingdom. So I really want you to focus, please, on when that thinking was done about: what shall we do about the victims of hidden harms in the context of the ready decision-making which we now understand is going to take place?

Dame Patel: So that was in March. I mean, that was in and around the time of lockdown.

And the reason why I tried to contextualise not the Domestic Abuse Bill, but this does apply to children as well, there was work taking place within the department, so there was some county lines work, all sorts of things going on, with police and law enforcement but also with education. That’s partly down to my role as Home Secretary not just throughout the pandemic but prior to lockdown.

So we were agile, we were able to work at pace and we were able to start working across the sector with partners as soon as we were effectively locking down.

That was – the lockdown I think on 23 March, when that came, obviously changed engagement dynamic, concentrated on how people would be affected, but just in that run-up to lockdown I think it could have been even around possibly 18 March, around that time, I had already started to have discussions around vulnerable people, vulnerable groups, as I said, within the Home Office. And that is within the Home Office, this isn’t just across government but within the Home Office. Primarily because, you go back to my roles and responsibilities, that’s the nature of the work of the Home Secretary and the work of the Home Office: we’re constantly thinking about vulnerable people, impacts through legislation and many other things that we were undertaking anyway. And I had some specific programmes, that I’m sure we’ll come on to, where we were already funding work around vulnerable people where we then sort of went to grow that funding pool and then started to reallocate resources.

Lead Inquiry: And briefly, the work that it became understood would be necessary, was that the drawing up of policy documents, guidance, was it the drafting of communication materials, so telling people what their positions were, what their rights were, what they could do to protect themselves and what they would need to do in the event of abuse, was it the making available of resource, money, or was it, lastly, legislative proposals or a combination of all? If you can just briefly –

Dame Patel: So it’s a combination of all, an absolute combination of all. Legislative proposals already under way.

So first and foremost, convening, the power to convene, so convening groups, so partners within the sector, refuges, for example, charitable organisations and groups. Effectively frontline organisations. And not working in isolation but making them part of that dialogue, working with them, understanding their needs, but also understanding from a communications perspective where they needed help and support and how we could use the machinery of government to then communicate messages into lockdown, you know, throughout lockdown, particularly to vulnerable people, as to where they could access help and support. And there’s a policing element to this as well that we –

Lead Inquiry: We will come back to that. All right.

You mentioned a few moments ago that on 18 March, you had by that stage, and of course that’s before the lockdown, already begun to argue the cause of the victims of hidden harms. Was that in the context of a Cabinet committee where you’d engage directly in a debate as to the definition of vulnerable people and you were calling I think for a wider definition to be given in order that the impact upon such groups could be more widely considered and taken account of?

Dame Patel: That is correct.

Lead Inquiry: What Cabinet committee was that? Can you recall?

Dame Patel: I cannot tell you the actual title of that Cabinet committee, because so many of our committees morphed into Covid-Os, Ss, MIGs and different structures, but I think it’s important to reflect at that time, the 18th, if my memory serves me correct, schools closed on the 20th and so the reason why I was pressing for that was to ensure that obviously the children of key workers, vulnerable people, could effectively, you know, still receive access to education and all those types of things. Because definition of vulnerability from my perspective, as Home Secretary and in the Home Office, was very broad. That would also include frontline workers in refuges, for example, different definitions of individuals that are providing support services.

So these were important – important discussions to have at the time.

Lead Inquiry: And the context for that discussion, Dame Priti, was it, that initially the consideration had been given to those who might be vulnerable only in the context of clinical considerations, so maybe those with health conditions, or the elderly, in addition, or perhaps pregnant women, and it became clear, didn’t it, that any sensible scheme for dealing with and meeting the needs of vulnerable people would have to be widened, it couldn’t be limited to those essentially clinical or age-related or pregnancy-related considerations?

Dame Patel: That’s absolutely right, and I think it was quite telling at that particular stage of the pandemic, so March 2020, that very much was the focus, it was on the clinical side, the health side of things, and then obviously the iterations came afterwards, once lockdown had taken place, and then we could see the impact more broadly across society.

Lead Inquiry: That debate about, firstly, the meaning of vulnerable people, and secondly, also, the debate about the definition of key workers which followed on very quickly thereafter, in the context of both those terminological debates, was specific consideration given to whether or not the victims of domestic or child abuse should be brought within those terminologies?

Dame Patel: I can’t recall at that particular time, I cannot recall whether or not it was, but I do know that in terms of pressing for a wider definition of vulnerabilities and vulnerable people, I do know children came into it.

And the reason, as I’ve already touched on, is partly because of the work that I was pressing across government – I’m not sure my colleagues in government thanked me at the time – particularly around children, county lines, missing children. It’s a major part of our work in the Home Office. And we knew that, you know, sometimes the safety net just isn’t there in the way in which it needs to be within the state and the safety net misses categories of individuals. So that was very much front and centre of my concern at the time.

Lead Inquiry: Now, chronologically, there was, of course, the reading of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which I think was on 3 March 2020 and the reason why I interrupted earlier was that was a Bill which of course had been conceived long before –

Dame Patel: Some time before.

Lead Inquiry: – the lockdown –

Dame Patel: Yeah.

Lead Inquiry: – came to pass, and of course long before the coronavirus became apparent. Was that Domestic Abuse Bill signed into law straight away or did it take time until it came into effect?

Dame Patel: Of course, so many challenges obviously even throughout a pandemic is still continuing: the work of government, legislation – I mentioned earlier on the immigration Bill that we brought forward as part of leaving the EU. The Domestic Abuse Act, as it now is, Bill at the time, second reading in March, meant it had to go through the full stages of Parliament, so second reading, committee stage, all the discussions, working with third parties, that takes time. So that was certainly, throughout 2020, pretty much – that was just one of the many pieces of legislation that we had going through Parliament.

But I think, if I may, it is important to just reflect, because it was a live piece of legislation, it naturally facilitated and enabled so much more dialogue to take place with stakeholders, partners, you know, the people that we would work with effectively within the domestic abuse wider family and community, and that clearly helped to shape, inform – I can definitely say helped to shape, inform a lot of the pandemic response.

Lead Inquiry: However, the reality was, wasn’t it, that that Bill was not signed into law until 29 April 2021, and therefore it could bring no support at all, or succour, to the victims of hidden harm during the first, second or third national lockdowns. It didn’t come into law until they had all been and gone.

Dame Patel: So, if I may, I would effectively question that, because of the level of support that was put in place throughout the pandemic for hidden harms and vulnerable people.

The Domestic Abuse Act –

Lead Inquiry: Can I interrupt you, please, Dame Priti, I do apologise.

Quite so, but my question was that that Act could provide no support. I’m about to ask you questions about the other means by which support was proffered. But that Act could have no practical application until it passed into law, could it?

Dame Patel: So the Act was under development, or the Bill at the time, so the Act itself could not.

Lead Inquiry: However, in your statement, and if we could perhaps bring up in quick succession the subparagraphs of paragraph 79.

79(i), you refer to:

“… Additional funding for frontline charities including those supporting domestic abuse victims.”

I think I’m right in saying that a footnote that you provide later in your statement, footnote 54, makes plain, however, that of that £750 million for frontline charities only a relatively small proportion was for domestic abuse charities:

“… £15 [million] … to Ministry of Justice for Police and Crime Commissioners to allocate to domestic abuse charities, £10 [million] … to [MHCLG] for domestic abuse accommodation … and £2 [million] for the Home Office to allocate [Itself towards domestic abuse charities].”

So that was an overarching sum for all charities or –

Dame Patel: That’s right.

Lead Inquiry: – a significant part of charities –

Dame Patel: During the pandemic.

Lead Inquiry: At (ii) we can see a re-prioritisation of the Home Office funding to address Covid-19-related threats for victims of child sexual abuse and exploitation.

Changes, 6 April, to the scheme for support for modern slavery victims.

More money in funding in the Home Office on 11 April.

The important “You Are Not Alone” campaign on 11 April. What was that?

Dame Patel: So this was a public awareness, it was a communications campaign, effectively, and it was effectively launched at a Downing Street press conference on 11 April, I think on the platform with me was Martin Hewitt actually, from National Police Chiefs’ Council, where we specifically focused that press conference on hidden harms.

But specific to the “You Are Not Alone” campaign, it was part of the messaging around domestic abuse, that should you need help and support as a vulnerable person subject to domestic abuse, then (a) you are not alone and that there are ways and means in which you can seek help and support.

So in relation to earlier questions, you know, a lot of communications work clearly, funding allocated for this, but also working with our third parties such as the national hotline for domestic abuse, in anticipation of an inevitable surge. Once you’ve launched your campaign, of course, it would then go into that helpline.

Lead Inquiry: I think that that press conference, it was indeed on 11 April, you spoke together with Mr Hewitt on the emerging crime picture –

Dame Patel: That’s right.

Lead Inquiry: – and as part of that exploration, you directly addressed the issue of domestic and child abuse.

I think you – or at least the Home Office had liaised in advance of that press conference with a number of charitable organisations involved in that sector, so Women’s Aid, Refuge and so on?

Dame Patel: That’s right, and also organisations such as Barnardo’s, NPCC, all those that specialise in children and care.

One other point to make, if I may, just about that press conference I think we also spoke about online harms. We had seen a surge once the schools had closed, and this is obviously through our wider networks and the National Crime Agency, a very significant increase in the appalling practice of online harm and abuse towards children.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

Picking up the thread from paragraph 79 we can see the additional funding of 2 May, a letter to technology industry partners on 7 May, the Hidden Harms summit, which was an important event in this chronology, on 21 May. And then if we could go to paragraph 84, you raised at Cabinet in the summer of 2020 the issue of what plans were in place for the provision of free school meal volunteers(sic) and what plans the Department for Education had for addressing the widening attainment gap. And a briefing in advance of a Covid-O meeting in June recorded your concerns about the mental health impact on children as well as your support for a variety of charitable organisations as well as vulnerable children in that context.

In October, paragraph 73, you appointed an adviser, Nimco Ali. What was that appointment concerned with?

Dame Patel: So her appointment was specifically linked to the department’s wider work on violence against women and girls, a very significant strand and pillar of the department’s work on safeguarding. We have a minister for safeguarding, so very significant area. And of course that spoke to everything to do with tackling violence against women and girls, forced marriages, FGM, domestic abuse, domestic violence, coercive behaviour. So having her as a professional, a health professional that’s worked in the sector, but also an individual, a professional that at the same time understands not just the issues but the organisations, third party groups and organisations, that we as a department could effectively work with and partner with in developing a wider strategy.

Lead Inquiry: In November, the Home Office announced further funding for the victims of rape and domestic abuse. We can see that in December 2020 the “You Are Not Alone” campaign was relaunched, and then in January 2021, and again I just want to ask you for your views on this, was a national strategy to protect children announced, I think on 22 January? Paragraph 74.

Dame Patel: That’s correct.

Lead Inquiry: How important was that strategy in the general scheme of things?

Dame Patel: I think it was pivotal, absolutely crucial to all our work. Not just in the Home Office, but all forms of child sexual abuse online, the wider system, the criminal justice system, which we’ve not even touched on in terms of how that part of the system was working during the pandemic, but hidden harms and therefore our relationship and partnership working with third parties, including technology companies.

Throughout the pandemic it is fair to say that I had some very forthright discussions with technology companies about their own responsibilities to data sharing, closing down platforms that effectively promoted and facilitated and enabled all sorts of terrible things on the web that could also compel and entice children to be on those sites, while at the same time working with third party agencies. And a point to make, throughout this pandemic period I remember having a specific discussion with technology companies, I think the National Crime Agency were involved as well, because we saw a surge in activity online, almost the inevitability of lockdown – with that, of course, perpetrators are spending more time online, the dark web in particular is a dreadful place for just terrible activity, but we found that some of the third party organisations that we would work with, for example the Internet Watch Foundation, and others, they themselves were affected by the pandemic, so they were not in the office. Many of their people and professionals that would monitor images, that could then go to law enforcement, they were suffering from Covid. So there were all sorts of wider practical considerations that we had to consider working with law enforcement and working with these partners as to how we could tackle this wider scourge in society, and this strategy was really part of all that.

Lead Inquiry: In March 2022 the Home Office launched a new Tackling Domestic Abuse Plan, and by that stage, Dame Priti, it was obvious, was it not, that to a significant extent and despite all the work that had been done, the impact of the lockdowns and the social restrictions which had been placed on the country from time to time, had meant that online child abuse and recourse to abuse helplines and so on and so forth had continued to increase.

So the question then arises: to what extent do you assess that all this valuable work and the steps that the Home Office and you personally took were able to reverse or to reduce the terrible scourge, the vice of this criminality which you had identified as requiring steps to be taken to address?

Dame Patel: The steps that we undertook, I would absolutely stand by, they were the right steps to deploy, the measures, resourcing throughout the pandemic. Even during the early stages of the pandemic, we knew – and when I say “we” I refer to law enforcement, stakeholders, organisations, practitioners – we knew that when we would come out of lockdown there would be a surge in demand, people seeking help and support, and I guess one of the very significant challenges that I had as Home Secretary, and it’s part of the reason why these strategies came about, is the need for resourcing: to resource what comes next. Never just think it’s all about the present, we have to plan for the future, and meet future demand. And re-prioritising funding, I did – I think I did re-prioritise pretty much most of our departmental budget throughout 2020 into 2021, very much to meet immediate needs but then also to make the case to the Treasury for future needs.

So it’s all hand in hand effectively, but we did know, we knew that there would be a surge. And these issues, they’re always there, they’re always there. It’s a case of how do we as a government effectively put the right support structures in and, where we possibly can, the right mitigations in as well to prevent further abuse.

Lead Inquiry: So are you saying that there was a formalised process by which, as time went on, the Home Office was able to review the outcome of the plans and the procedures it had put in place, and the support, in order to be able to calibrate, or recalibrate better, future work?

Dame Patel: That’s how we functioned in the Home Office, absolutely.

Lead Inquiry: Just two final aspects on this topic.

One of the core participant groups has made this point and makes this point and asks that it be addressed. The Prime Minister’s address to the nation on 23 March did not refer to domestic abuse as a permitted reason to leave home. His announcement on 31 October did refer to the need to escape injury or harm. There was no reference in his 5 November statement to escaping injury or harm, and in December 2020 and January there were various references to permitted exemptions but, again, not to the possibility of victims of abuse being able to escape that injury or harm.

Did the Home Office engage at all with Number 10 or the Cabinet Office in relation to whether or not there was a case for mentioning such exemptions or permitted departures from the legislation for the purposes of the Prime Minister’s announcements?

Dame Patel: So these were all discussions that were taking place. I think it’s fair to say for the first lockdown, that incredibly shocking moment when the Prime Minister announced that we are heading into lockdown, the messaging there was very clear about stay at home and all the measures there.

But in answer to your question, absolutely, certainly from my perspective. And we had a policy adviser, the Prime Minister had his own private secretary for Home Affairs, a great lady called Hannah Young, we would work directly with her to make the case constantly, not just about exemptions but actually the significance of domestic abuse, vulnerability, to ensure that featured obviously in the discussions that the Prime Minister was involved in but also decision-makings and potentially the communications that would follow from there.

Lead Inquiry: Finally, was any consideration given by the Home Office to affording victims of domestic abuse an open and clear permissible legal route by which they could leave the location of the abuse and stay with friends or family?

Dame Patel: Yes. There were endless discussions about this within the department. And I think in terms of public communications, I know you’ve touched on the Prime Minister’s previous statements, there were communications that took place publicly about, if you as an individual are vulnerable or subject to harm, you can leave. At no stage did we say you cannot leave.

Lead Inquiry: Was it necessary to provide for a legal exemption in the regulatory structure for such a departure, or was guidance and the declaration of an appropriate message sufficient?

Dame Patel: So, if we come back to – we’ll come on policing later on, and there’s some policing examples here too, guidance and messaging were absolutely crucial.

And if I may just use a police example, throughout even the early stages, and this was during lockdown, during my policing calls we would speak very clearly each day about domestic abuse. And in fact Lucy Rolfe (sic), who is a very senior officer in the Metropolitan Police, she was a dedicated officer working on domestic abuse and would feed back to myself and to the department regularly on the domestic abuse landscape. Yes in London but, more broadly as well, through the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

And we know for a fact during the pandemic when officers – during lockdown I should say, when officers were out and about practising the “Four Es”, there are examples of police forces around the country that would check on specific households where they had known that there were issues of domestic abuse.

So if I may, to your point, communication was critical, guidance, but also the professionalism of those individuals that were working in the community at the time, absolutely paramount.

Lead Inquiry: All right.

The legislation and the regulations. I don’t know whether you heard the evidence from Martin Hewitt concerning the complexity of the regulations that were drafted, promulgated, and, as to the speed with which they were drawn up, leaving the police with very little time, if any, to be able to reflect upon what was coming and to be able to draw up their own guidance as to how their officers should approach such matters.

In general terms, do you assess that the Home Office was sufficiently consulted in a proper and timely manner, in advance of regulations being laid?

Dame Patel: So, so much moved so quickly during that period, a proper and timely manner would, you know, be generous in some – on some days effectively. But I spent most of my time actually working with and speaking to Martin Hewitt, National Police Chiefs’ Council and colleagues within policing and colleagues within our own department. We would anticipate regulatory changes coming, and – I may have said earlier on today as well – our role was to basically be advocates for policing on the practicalities.

So, you know, we were never engaged on line by line, never really part of that discussion. Things changed later on, but so much of this decision-making, the thought processes, the holding of the pen was very much with the Department of Health and Social Care, and then obviously the interface with the Cabinet Office.

Lead Inquiry: I’m not going to read out all the regulations, they are extraordinarily complex, and they range from (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations, numbers 1, 2, 3, all tier regulations, amendment regulations. There was a proliferation, an impenetrable thicket of regulations.

Why, over the course of the whole pandemic, was the system not properly regulated to allow the Home Office and the police more time to see what was coming? It appears that even at the end of the pandemic regulations were being laid at short notice and without a full consultation process.

Dame Patel: So I think there’s quite a bit to effectively think about from the first set of regulations to perhaps even when the regulations disappeared, and that’s down to the context of various stages of the pandemic. So –

Lead Inquiry: I’m so sorry to interrupt, Dame Priti, the system by which line departments and Parliamentary Counsel draw up regulations and they’re debated in the heart of government, and perhaps circulated through an overarching Cabinet Office system, we know not, is well known.

Why was the system not varied or recalibrated over these many months, in fact years, to allow better time for the Home Office and the police to be able to be consulted on the next set of regulations?

The contents of the regulations may well have changed over time and did, and there were very complex issues about the contents. But the process by which they were drafted, dreamt of and then delivered appears to have been significantly flawed throughout.

Dame Patel: So the drafting, the delivery, sits with the Department of Health and Social Care. I mean, the Home Office was very much, as I’ve said, our – we were there to actually explain potentially what would work, what wouldn’t work, and there was a lot that didn’t work, but I can’t account for the system itself in terms of its lack of interoperability and the inflexibility of the Cabinet Office and the Department of Health and Social Care during –

Lead Inquiry: Forgive me.

Dame Patel: – at the time.

Lead Inquiry: The Home Secretary is an important beast in the jungle. When the DHSC presented at the eleventh hour another set of regulations, you must have screamed at them and said, “You cannot do this again, this is unacceptable, these are matters of criminal law, they are matters regulating the behaviour of the populace” –

Dame Patel: And we did.

Lead Inquiry: – “give us more time”?

Dame Patel: And we did.

Lead Inquiry: And what happened?

Dame Patel: So they would proceed. So the Department of Health and Social Care would say “We need these regulatory changes” and they would go ahead with it, and our department, so the teams that we worked with, and then worked – we had Operation Talla that was led by Martin Hewitt, or led by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, we would support them in literally translating this into the guidance that would then be drafted, more often than not overnight ready for the new teams of officers that would come on to duty in the morning, and then their morning team and operational calls would then walk their officers through. I mean, it was suboptimal at every single level.

But let’s not forget, policing practices throughout the pandemic – and it was our objective collectively, I say this, within policing – was to at least be consistent where we could.

So I’m sure Martin Hewitt spoke about the “Four Es” earlier on, the methodology behind that, so we wanted consistency, absolutely wanted consistency and of course when you have local lockdowns coming in and the regulations are changing in one part of the country, it makes the life of police officers very difficult –

Lead Inquiry: Can I pause you there. I hadn’t asked you about enforcement, and I wasn’t asking you about generality of enforcement across the country. The question was directed at the system by which these regulations were presented and produced.

Would you accept that there was throughout a high degree of confusion surrounding the meaning of the broad thrust of these regulations, they were complex, they were difficult to understand, and that led to both confusion on the part of the public as to how they could regulate their behaviour and confusion on the part of the police as to how they might be enforced? It’s a general proposition?

Dame Patel: So I would agree. I completely – I would agree.

Lead Inquiry: Would you advocate, therefore, for a significantly better system in the future for the production, promulgation and bringing into force of regulations in a public health crisis?

Dame Patel: I think there would need to be a different system completely. Totally different system.

Lead Inquiry: Coming now to enforcement, could you just explain the interface between the Home Office and the police.

Martin Hewitt has explained already that operational matters are of course exclusively within the reach of individual police forces, they are responsible for the enforcement of law. What is the position of the Home Office at that generic level?

Is it to ensure that the police forces have the resources and the wherewithal to be able to enforce the law operationally or does the Home Office take a view and have a stance on to what degree the law should be enforced?

Dame Patel: So it’s very much the former, and it is absolutely working alongside the police. Particularly in a pandemic, when they’re being asked to do, you know, unprecedented things effectively around policing.

To give them support, often guide them as well, if that’s required.

Resourcing was a constant feature of our conversations and, as I said, I spoke about re-prioritisation of resourcing.

And respecting operational independence. We’re policed by consent in our country.

Every police force led by a chief constable, reporting in to, during the pandemic that is, Operation Talla, giving feedback.

Those were the mechanisms by which we had our engagement, dialogue and discussions.

Lead Inquiry: To what extent is the Home Secretary or the Home Office able to issue a general declaratory call for greater enforcement or less enforcement or enforcement of and prosecution of – or investigation and prosecution of the more egregious offending as opposed to a lighter touch? To what extent can the Home Secretary delve into those murky waters?

Dame Patel: So the Home Secretary can ask questions, clearly, around some of the operational activity that’s taking place. I did that all the time. And not just throughout – not just on coronavirus, there were other activities taking place in policing throughout the pandemic. That is, partly holding them to account, asking them, around operational work, what is actually going on and taking place. But specifically around the pandemic, and “egregious breaches” is a phrase obviously that has been used and was familiar throughout the pandemic as well, the police have to exercise their professional judgement, and when it comes to egregious breaches, the police were very clear about the approach that they were taking throughout the pandemic: it was about engaging, explaining – going through the “Four Es” process. The enforcement piece was only in last resort. When they felt that there was potentially an egregious breach or something serious that may have happened, that’s not for a Home Secretary to second-guess what that act would be, because law enforcement and our police officers are the ones that are there to look after public safety and enforce the law, they’re the ones that make the judgement, effectively, in terms of when to apply that.

Lead Inquiry: Did you formally call on the Cabinet or the Prime Minister at any stage to take a particular position on the level of enforcement? So did you formally call for only egregious breaches to be enforced or to be prosecuted or investigated? Did you call for a lighter touch, formally, to your colleagues in government?

Dame Patel: So I – throughout the pandemic, I felt that I spent a great deal of time reminding my colleagues of the role of policing, and the “Four Es” in particular, and also operational independence, and that we as politicians are not there to dictate directly to the police as to when to arrest people, enforce the law. Very clearly.

Secondly, I had reminded many colleagues, including my colleagues in Downing Street, but across government as well, in unprecedented times we have asked the police to do unprecedented things as well, in terms of law enforcement, and the roles and responsibilities that they were taking were very much based on public health and public safety and public protection.

Lead Inquiry: But did you nevertheless take a position on the degree to which the police should be, to use the vernacular, coming down hard? Did the Home Office intervene in the debate, effectively one of operationalisation, and say “We think the police should enforce in a harder way, there should be tougher sanctions”, or “We think the police should only prosecute the most serious offending”?

Dame Patel: Not in a general sense. If there were dreadful acts that were taking place, then clearly that’s not for the Home Secretary to dictate, there have to be specific examples of egregious breaches.

Lead Inquiry: I ask because in your statement you say:

“Throughout the Pandemic my advice to the Prime Minister and Cabinet was that the police would focus enforcement activity only on egregious breaches …”

So I ask again: to what extent did you, the Home Secretary, and the Home Office, take a position on the degree to which these regulations were in practice being enforced?

Dame Patel: The enforcement of the regulations and the practicalities of those enforcements again were very much down to the circumstances that the police themselves were dealing with. So egregious breaches, that’s – that is a term. Just to give an example, if I may –

Lead Inquiry: I’m going to invite you not to –

Dame Patel: Okay.

Lead Inquiry: – if you’ll forgive me, Dame Priti, because you have made the point and I don’t think we need an example to make good that proposition.

Could you a quick look, please, at INQ000137249.

This is a document to the Prime Minister dated 13 August 2020 from Imran Shafi, from whom the Inquiry has heard. It’s a document concerning the proposed reopenings on 15 August. It says in the last paragraph:

“We will need to handle the Health Secretary if you do agree to open as he is likely to continue to want a more cautious approach (as do Chris and Patrick).”

I’m not going to ask you about what was meant by handling the Health Secretary, but if we could just scroll through, please, the document to the handwritten comments of the Prime Minister – there we are, thank you.

“I agree with the openings but [and then in capital letters] the OVERRIDING MESSAGE should be about tougher enforcement and [in capital letters] BIGGER FINES.”

Putting aside the crushing irony, prospectively, of this observation, to what extent, Dame Priti, did you directly debate with the Prime Minister the putting into practice of such a course?

Dame Patel: So, we – we absolutely had discussions, not – I wasn’t involved in this particular discussion and meeting – around enforcement, and fines, the fines spectrum altered throughout the pandemic, which is another subject in itself around FPNs. But, I mean, this was August 2020, reopenings, I suspect there were concerns about what would happen, people going back out, behaviours.

I do know as well we had incidences involving UMEs, unlicensed music events, that would become a magnet for other factors, drugs and other nefarious activities. So, again, I would not direct the police, but I would, through the policing calls that we had, re-state and reiterate the need to ensure that the law is being upheld, enforced. It’s not a case about, you know, go out there and get bigger fines or things of that nature, but again upholding the law in the right way. And our police officers who are on the ground, they’re the ones to judge effectively the steps that need to be taken in certain cases.

Lead Inquiry: But the system from 15 August in fact provided for a new flat fine of £10,000, it was a flat fine introduced around this time and of course reflective of the direction, if we may call it the direction, from Downing Street.

Did you, on behalf of the Home Office, believe – and this isn’t an operational question, the police may or may not investigate and prosecute and impose the fine, or have the courts impose the fine, but did you think that a new flat fine of £10,000 was proportionate?

Dame Patel: It was very high. It was – it was just –

Lead Inquiry: Was it proportionate in light of the civil libertarian issues, the public health context and the fact that these fines were being produced and imposed for breaches of social movements?

Dame Patel: The answer is no.

Lead Inquiry: Did the Home Office push back and say, “Our view is this £10,000 flat fine is disproportionate, you just can’t do this”?

Dame Patel: And it was the Home Office in that collective sense, so myself, my officials, again talking to policing colleagues at the time.

Lead Inquiry: Thank you very much.

The right to protest. There is an obvious balance, and it must be a balance which you must have sought day in day out to navigate as Home Secretary, between the individual freedom to protest, the right to protest in fact, and the governmental public health obligation to ensure that freedom of movement is curtailed to prevent the spread of the infection and, ultimately, death.

Do you assess that through the particularity of the regulations and the operational activities of the police, that balance was correctly struck, with particular reference, of course, to the Black Lives Matters protests in June 2020 and the Sarah Everard vigil in March 2021?

Dame Patel: Yeah. So, two different periods in the pandemic, for a start. If I recall rightly, and I was involved in a lot of the operational calls around that time, throughout the pandemic, around protests, I think between May 2020 and then perhaps March 2021 we had had something like 65 protests take place across the country. And specific to Black Lives Matter, I think there was one – there was one weekend, I remember being literally – working at my desk, involved in policing calls, I think there were 200 Black Lives Matter protests across the country, involving 100,000 people.

So a few things to say here. I think it’s important to reflect around the right to protest, freedom of expression, and the decisions that the police make in particular to allow and enable protests to go ahead.

Lead Inquiry: Forgive me, those are the limbs in that balancing exercise that I’ve already identified and you’ve agreed are the appropriate legs in that balance.

What was your view on whether or not – across the general approach throughout the pandemic to the exercise of that balance, do you think that balance was correctly struck in the eventuality or not?

Dame Patel: So, reflecting back, I do. At the time it probably felt uncomfortable, where – quite frankly, where we had lockdowns, for example, and people’s movements were being restricted and the public discourse would be: why are these protests happening?

Of course those are difficult challenges, it feels uncomfortable. And then the role of the police is clearly to facilitate, enable those expressions of free speech and expressions that the public felt strongly about – I mean, Black Lives Matter in particular – in a peaceful and respectful way.

My recollection is that the majority of those protests were peaceful. We had one particular protest in Whitehall where it turned particularly violent, and police officers were injured and assaulted, I think a bicycle was thrown at mounted police. I then remember going to visit the family of officers.

So striking the balance, difficult. I think at the time it felt very uncomfortable, which is why operationally so many of us came together to ensure that the police were resourced. They were engaging with a lot of the organisers of the movements as well.

I recall throughout that time, and I think in particular with regards to the Black Lives Matter protests, and it may be the one that took place on telegraphing, communicating publicly, you know, “Please be respectful if you’re protesting, because there’s a pandemic, there is a health pandemic taking place, and, you know, we are restricting people’s movements because of public health considerations”.

Lead Inquiry: Precisely, if I may say so. The regulations at that time, I think from a certain amount of research, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) amendment regulations in general terms prohibited outdoor gatherings of more than six. I therefore want to ask you about the discomfort to which you have just referred, because in a tweet on 6 June you tweeted:

“Protests must be peaceful and in accordance with

social distancing rules.”

Which rather tended to imply that it was possible to

have a protest in accordance with social distancing

rules, which in fact wasn’t possible because you can’t

protest meaningfully with more(sic) than six people.

Then in a Telegraph op-ed on 8 June, you said any

large gatherings of people are unlawful. So from the

standpoint of a potential protester, you do appear there

to be speaking with two voices.

Dame Patel: There’s inconsistency there.

Lead Inquiry: There is. June – it may be, I’m not saying it is – even 13 A. Yes, I can see that.

I do also recall, though, through the discussions

that took place, and this is very specific to Black

Lives Matters, and possibly the team with

the Metropolitan Police, because the main protest took

place in London, they in particular were focusing on the

need to social distance throughout that protest.

Lead Inquiry: The position was reached, was it not, as we saw in the

WhatsApp from Lord Frost – and we’ll just have it put

up, INQ000236372, page 86.

This is a WhatsApp communication in the specific

context of the Sarah Everard vigil, I think on 13 March.

Yes. So the High Court ruled on the lawfulness of the Metropolitan Police’s declaration that the vigil would be unlawful, and it did so on 12 and 13 March, and then the protest took place in the evening of 13 March, notwithstanding that High Court ruling, and of course the police then arrested, as we know, to large numbers of people’s distress – the arrests of the persons who had attended.

This WhatsApp group reflects a recognition on the part of politicians and advisers in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office that the truth is that those rules on outside gatherings were close to being unenforceable, and other of these WhatsApp contributions make plain that the government was in a very difficult position, and they call in fact for you to give an interview or to tweet yourself your views as to the protests and the arrests.

Was it generally recognised, both at the heart of government in Downing Street and the Cabinet Office, as well as the Home Office, that these rules were indeed practically unenforceable?

Dame Patel: Well, within the Home Office, yes, absolutely. And this is clearly within the context of the vigil that took place to remember Sarah Everard. This was a very emotional time and a difficult time –

Lead Inquiry: The Inquiry recalls that.

Dame Patel: So there was no doubt, and I’d been involved with discussions with the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in the run-up to this particular vigil, around the sensitivities of this particular vigil, plus the legal action that was taking place, and it was – it was self-evident, people were going to come out. It was a very, very fraught and emotional time and people wished to express their grief, and rightly so. I think I had also publicly suggested that people may come forward and find other ways of showing that expression of grief.

But to this particular WhatsApp, it absolutely speaks to the wider challenges, not just with this vigil but the wider challenges.

Specific to this vigil, I was dismayed with what I saw. I saw the news that night and I – I saw the news and just felt that that was totally inappropriate policing. And so inevitably I had to raise that with the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, and then a lot of other work took place thereafter.

Lead Inquiry: Thank you.

Finally, racial disproportionality.

Your statement makes plain that you were informed by the Metropolitan Police Service that in June 2020 data which they had collated, and we heard evidence on this earlier, would show that black people were, in your words, roughly three times as likely to be issued with a fixed penalty notice than white people compared to the resident population.

Two questions, please.

Firstly, would you agree that the disproportionate imposition of fixed penalty notices on people of black and minority ethnic backgrounds did undermine public confidence in that scheme?

Dame Patel: I’m not sure at the timing, because we had mixed evidence throughout, in the early days we had very limited evidence, so if you could just remind me as to the –

Lead Inquiry: This data was in June 2020 and it showed clearly that black people were roughly three times as likely to be issued with a fixed penalty notice.

Dame Patel: That was the Met?

Lead Inquiry: So this is the data – yes, the data that had become apparent and was very clear by June.

It’s a basic proposition: would you agree that that data, when it became apparent, did undermine public confidence in the operation –

Dame Patel: It raised concerns, absolutely.

Lead Inquiry: Secondly, did the Home Office itself, mindful of course of your remit –

Dame Patel: Yes.

Lead Inquiry: – take any steps in relation to the ongoing development of the regulatory and criminal scheme, to take account of this data?

Dame Patel: So throughout, I think we were very conscientious. I in particular was very conscientious about public confidence in policing. And yes, within the widest sense but also through the pandemic, we’d asked the police to police something that had never been policed before, and therefore there would be knock-on ramifications in terms of the public trust and confidence. We’ve just touched on the Sarah Everard tragedy, that really demonstrated – took a real knock for public confidence in policing.

So throughout the pandemic, partly because if there are concerns of this nature around public confidence in policing, that could spill over into public order issues and challenges and problems. So there are a range of considerations and discussions that were taking place throughout.

Mr Keith: Thank you very much.

My Lady, I’ve no further questions. There are some Rule 10s.

Lady Hallett: There are some Rule 10s.

Ms Davies – oh, you can go first? Very well, Mr Thomas first.

Questions From Professor Thomas KC

Professor Thomas: Thank you.

Dame Priti, I represent FEHMO, the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations. I have three areas of questions for you, and I won’t take up much of your time. First, some very brief context.

Can we agree on the following: can we agree that as Covid-19, the pandemic, swept across the UK, the responsibility for formulating and implementing regulations to protect public health fell on key government agencies, including the Home Office, to advise on shape and enforce these regulations; can we agree on that?

Dame Patel: Yes.

Professor Thomas KC: Secondly, can we also agree that central to this effort was a delicate balance between safeguarding public health and upholding individual rights, and ensuring equitable application of rules, particularly within diverse community and ethnic communities; can we agree on that?

Dame Patel: Yes.

Professor Thomas KC: You see, against – amidst that backdrop, FEHMO recognises the critical role of the Home Office led by you, Dame Priti, the then Home Secretary. So just in terms of just trying to unravel some of the decision-making process, let me turn to my questions.

Firstly, what specific criteria and considerations were taken into account by the Home Office when advising on the proportionality and impact of Covid-19 regulations?

Dame Patel: In terms of on the communities?

Professor Thomas KC: Yes.

Dame Patel: There were extensive discussions, across the board, I have to say, not just on the regulations, but, you know, on vaccines and also sorts of things.

I’ve just touched on, in my conclusive statement, before we moved into your question, the whole – there’s a balance here in terms of literally public confidence – from a Home Office perspective, law enforcement in particular, regulations. The most visible aspect throughout the pandemic of the Home Office equities was policing, policing in the community, through the regulations, but the visible manifestation effectively through police officers in the community. So that ongoing dialogue was constantly taking place. In the sense, as well, that challenge back to us from – what is practical, what was working, what wasn’t working, and then, to your earlier point, doing the advocacy within government, the wider machinery of government, to reflect upon the wider impacts across society, communities, particular ethnic groups.

Professor Thomas KC: Okay.

How did the Home Office assess the practicalities of enforcing the Covid regulations, particularly with regard to the police’s ability to implement them effectively and fairly?

Dame Patel: So if I may just touch on my earlier comments in reflection as well. The key for the police throughout the pandemic, and this cuts across the entire country, all our police forces, through the operational structures of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Operation Talla was attempting to be consistent. And it’s fair to say we found that deeply challenging, found it challenging in certain parts of the country, through different regulations, whether it’s through national lockdowns or local lockdowns. We wanted to have consistency, and that’s why the principle of the “Four Es” I think was probably the most consistent aspect actually of policing.

Professor Thomas KC: Can I just jump in there, what methodologies or assessments did the Home Office use to ensure that there was that consistency?

Dame Patel: So that is very much – in terms of you specifically asked about methodologies, we were having operational calls with our police virtually every day, then several times a week, and it’s that feedback mechanism which matters, because there is no one size fits all, at all, in terms of policing in different parts of the country, particularly where we’re at the stage where we had local lockdowns and some communities were more affected or there were certain communities where there was a greater policing presence. So it would be very much based upon the period of certain regulations, what was going on in different parts of the country. But effectively the guidance would come from National Police Chiefs’ Council and then go out to police forces and it would be down to local forces to operationalise that.

Professor Thomas KC: Dame Priti, we heard just a moment ago, just before the lunch, that the impact of some of the disproportionalities were getting worse, not better, the stats were showing that it was impacting particularly on black communities, it was getting worse as the pandemic went on. Did that concern you?

Dame Patel: I was concerned throughout the pandemic.

Professor Thomas KC: And what did you do about those concerns?

Dame Patel: So, through policing, again through policing, who are operationally independent, to ensure that they were engaging and explaining in the way in which the “Four Es” specifically outlined, obviously enforcement was the last – the last aspect of – effectively in a fine, moving to that level.

I do, however, think it is important to note that we now have more data, particularly towards the end of the pandemic, and if I may, you may be referring to one particular document which is from Edinburgh University, which actually collates the whole ethnic profile of FPNs, and it shows throughout the pandemic a range of data but also throughout the pandemic I think the figures in particular reflect the extent of public frustration around lockdowns much later in the pandemic, and I think if memory serves me right there is a particular table in that Edinburgh University report that highlights something like over 120,000 FPNs being issued across England and Wales but there is a point in the document as well that also goes to say that within ethnic minority communities they had the highest number of their fines cancelled.

Professor Thomas KC: Dame Priti, two things. Firstly, there was a significant amount of data during the pandemic, not just at the end; would you accept that?

Dame Patel: Yes, I do, and a lot of that data came from National Police Chiefs’ Council and the policing operations, primarily because we wanted the police to be transparent throughout in terms of their work on what was going on, FPNs, but also the community impact. We police by consent in our country and that is through community engagement at the grassroots.

Professor Thomas KC: Let me turn to my last question. Could you provide examples of regulations where the Home Office raised concerns about potential breakdown in policing by consent, and how those concerns were addressed?

So I’ll repeat the question: can you provide any examples of regulations where the Home Office raised concerns about the potential breakdown in policing by consent, and how those concerns were addressed?

Dame Patel: So I specifically, and this was at the outset of the pandemic, I was very concerned about public order issues, and there is extensive work and documentation within the Home Office around what could lead to the breakdown of policing by consent, effectively. So that was very much in the early stages, I would say March and April 2020. I was involved in a number of discussions, and at the time that may have – I cannot categorically say – that may have gone on to, you know, shape the direction of travel. But there were active discussions within my department involving myself, involving my officials, around how do we effectively preserve, safeguard, make sure that our policing operations in the UK effectively, across all our police forces, do not break down and policing by consent does not break down.

Professor Thomas: My Lady, those are the questions I ask.

Lady Hallett: Thank you, Mr Thomas.

Ms Mitchell, I think you’ve got a short question or two, and then we’ll go to Ms Davies.

Questions From Ms Mitchell KC

Ms Mitchell: I’m obliged, my Lady, I do indeed.

I appear as instructed by Aamer Anwar & Company on behalf of the Scottish Covid Bereaved.

As Home Secretary during the pandemic, I’d like to ask you about borders during that time, specifically between Scotland and England, and England and Wales.

My question is this: did you have discussions with anyone about the possibility of banning travel between Scotland and England or England and Wales during that time?

Dame Patel: So I do recall discussions, particularly through the Cabinet Office, there were Cabinet committees, specifically focused on the devolved administrations, and policing within the devolved administrations, and in fact I’ve already, my Lady, touched on the policing calls that I led within the department.

We would also have our police constables from Wales, from Scotland, representatives as well, join those calls. They were – absolutely vital that we heard from them in terms of pandemic response from the police in the devolved administrations, and also to hear directly, in terms of whether it was the Scottish Government or the Welsh Government, any particular areas of policy changes that were being advocated there.

So our discussions were constant. And with that, of course, with our opposite numbers within the devolved administrations, and then, of course, my colleagues across other government departments, the Prime Minister himself, and then, through the Cabinet Office, respectfully with leaders in the devolved administrations, those calls and conversations were taking place constantly.

Ms Mitchell KC: And what were the nature of those discussions? What were the topics that were being asked about?

Dame Patel: So they were very practical, it’s fair to say. I can only really relay on the ones that involved Home Office areas, and specifically you’ve mentioned the borders, so naturally that would sit with some of the policing colleagues that I would speak to, my opposite numbers. And particularly on borders, wasn’t just about road borders and land borders, obviously we would have Border Force teams in Scotland and in Wales, later on throughout the pandemic we then brought in – people will recall – travel corridors, for example. We had regulations that would enable people to travel or not to travel, we brought in passenger locator forms. We would have to work together throughout the pandemic to operationalise many of these elements of, you know, a form of border measures, not quite border controls, but – and all that data would then come back to us, go to the Department of Health, go to the devolved administrations, really as part of the wider governance that was taking place throughout the pandemic.

Ms Mitchell KC: Your response has been to identify “we did this and we did that” as a group, as the Home Office.

Dame Patel: Yes.

Ms Mitchell KC: Did you specifically deal with anyone in Scotland?

Dame Patel: So, yes, I did. I have had – I had calls, I know, and I can’t remember specifically when, but I know that I – I think I probably spoke to Humza Yousaf at some stage. I think it was quite early on, actually, during the pandemic. There are various issues, practical issues that would effectively mean, you know, let’s pick up the phone, let’s just have conversations, sharing information.

So I can’t be more specific than that, but there was – there was active dialogue throughout, and that’s the nature of government and governance, effectively we have to work together through a crisis, learn from each other, but also find ways to engage and support each other.

Ms Mitchell: Thank you, my Lady, those are my questions.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Ms Mitchell.

Ms Davies.

Questions From Ms Davies KC

Ms Davies: Dame Priti, I ask questions on behalf of Southall Black Sisters and Solace Women’s Aid who, as you know, are part of the violence against women and girls –

Dame Patel: That’s right, yes.

Ms Davies KC: – sector, so I’m going to be concentrating on domestic abuse, part of your hidden harms agenda, but that part of it.

And I want to start with the well documented and, as you’ve referred to, the rise in domestic abuse during social isolation and then lockdown, and I want to look at the early period of the pandemic.

You gave evidence earlier in response to a question from Mr Keith that you started, and I’m going to be paraphrasing here, but essentially grappling with the issue around 18 March. Do you remember saying that?

Dame Patel: Yes.

Ms Davies KC: Yes, and we see in your statement that on 18 March at COBR you are requesting that the definition of key workers be expanded to exclude – include volunteers and workers in domestic abuse refuges. I’m going to key workers later on in my questions. But that’s what you’re saying at that point, you’re not saying “and there are all these other measures to take in relation to a rise in domestic abuse”, you’re just concentrating on –

Dame Patel: On 18 March –

Ms Davies KC: On 18 March.

Dame Patel: – you’re specifically saying?

COBR meetings are very specific in the areas.

Ms Davies KC: Mm.

Dame Patel: So it was very much focused, if memory serves me right, on vulnerability, definitions of vulnerability, and just the – the definitions –

Ms Davies KC: Yes, you say that in your –

Dame Patel: – question earlier on –

Ms Davies KC: That’s part of your statement.

Dame Patel: – not specific measures, not to the extent as we went on to, for example funding allocations and the type of initiatives that we set up.

Ms Davies KC: So I can take you through the chronology as we’ve pieced it together from the documents. The announcement of the national lockdown, as we all know, is on the evening of 23 March, in fact the Prime Minister’s address to the nation you’ve talked about it a minute ago, there was some social isolation in the week before that, from 16 March, and at COBR on 23 March there is a reference to domestic abuse. But we first see something concrete in a memo to you and to the minister for safeguarding on 26 March, so three days after national lockdown, and that’s a Home Office memo and it’s proposing various matters to do with funding and communications and so forth.

After that, you do write in the Mail on Sunday on 29 March, and on 11 April you launch the “You Are Not Alone” campaign.

My question to you is this: if it’s the case that the Home Office starts grappling with the issue of the rise in domestic abuse as a result of lockdown on 26 March, isn’t that far too late?

Dame Patel: I don’t think that’s accurate, if I may say so, and I touched on this earlier on. There is – I know for a fact I’d asked for all sorts of analysis, gap analysis I commissioned within the department. There was a lot of work taking place. We have a whole team, you’ll be familiar with the directorate, within the Home Office specifically working on these issues. So it’s an iteration primarily because we are – we were, I say, again collectively, the department, our ministers, engaging with third parties, domestic abuse commissioner. These are live and active conversations. So I appreciate in documentations, departmental submissions, they’re date-specific, but throughout our time we are having live discussions, picking up information, the feedback from policing calls as I touched on earlier on, none of this work is done in isolation.

Ms Davies KC: Could I ask for INQ000005274 to come on the screen, please.

Do you have it?

Dame Patel: No.

Ms Davies KC: No.


Lady Hallett: Can you read from it, Ms Davies?

Ms Davies: I will read from it.

This is the memo I referred to a moment ago, 26 March. It’s to yourself from Victoria Atkins, the minister for safeguarding. It is – without annexes, it is seven pages, and then there are two annexes, and it starts, it’s headed:

“Update on Violence against Women and Girls in COVID-19.


“Government response to the potential impact of COVID-19 on crimes involving Violence Against Women and Girls (VAWG).


“Pressing. A speedy response will allow us to implement the plans below as quickly as possible.”

And it starts:

“[Home Office[, MHCLG and MOJ are working together” –

Lady Hallett: It’s come up on screen, Ms Davies.

Ms Davies: I’m very grateful, thank you.

So you can now read it for yourself, Dame Priti.

So my suggestion to you is this is certainly the first time that we see anything that relates to the Home Office starting to get a grip with the inevitable rise of domestic abuse as a result of social isolation and lockdown?

Dame Patel: So this is one submission, it’s dated 26 March, as you’ve rightly pointed out to. These discussions – I mean, we touched on the Domestic Abuse Act going though at the time. That Act, along with these issues, involved the same departments that are referenced here, MHCLG, as it was at the time, the MoJ, there were discussions, certainly from policing, and I do recall this, about the impact on the pandemic lockdown on the courts system earlier on as well and what that would mean for domestic violence protection orders, some of the practical things, so I cannot definitively say that this was the first time something was documented, there was a documented piece of work on violence against women and girls specific to the pandemic, primarily because I do know my colleagues and I were working constantly on these issues and, as I touched on earlier on, we started as soon as we could.

Ms Davies KC: Will you take it from me that this seems to be the same time that it’s documented?

Dame Patel: Well, we’re referring to this particular submission –

Ms Davies KC: Yes. That’s –

Dame Patel: But there could be other informal documents within the Home Office –

Ms Davies KC: Clearly. We’ve gone through everything that’s been disclosed.

Dame Patel: Fine.

Ms Davies KC: Thank you.

The police, we heard evidence this morning from Mr Hewitt, they were planning by very early in March for the consequences of a lockdown, including a rise in domestic abuse. Very early in March he said, so that’s earlier than 18 March, which is when you raised key workers, earlier than 26 March, which is that memo?

Dame Patel: So we would be speaking together early on in March anyway, so we were having police operational calls before the lockdown. So we – we had a system in the Home Office, and this does come back to my point that these discussions were taking place before this submission that we have here in front of us on 26 March.

There is a lot of work taking place in the Home Office, I can tell you now, throughout January, February but also early March. And I’m not – I can’t specifically say when we first started off our operational policing calls but they would have been before this period.

Ms Davies KC: I don’t know if you’ve read the statement of Ms Rebecca Goshawk for Solace Women’s Aid? It was in your bundle.

Dame Patel: I have.

Ms Davies KC: Yes. She refers to a very alarming statistic, which is that the calls to their advice line, Solace Women’s Aid, in March, prior to lockdown, went up by an extraordinary 117%, so there were women, primarily women – domestic abuse obviously affects men and women, but primarily women – who were anticipating domestic abuse as a result of lockdown and seeking help.

My suggestion to you, Dame Priti, is that certainly in terms of documentation the first time we see the Home Office grappling with the issue is three days into national lockdown, 26 March?

Dame Patel: So I would come back to my earlier point on this as well, I touched on this in my previous remarks, we were working with – I presume these calls were predominantly in London or were they nationwide? – we were working with Louisa Rolfe at the Metropolitan Police and within our policing call frameworks as well early on in anticipation, as I said, even – lockdown, post lockdown, the surges that would come within helplines, and also the inevitability of the consequences of domestic abuse, violence, vulnerabilities.

So I would absolutely say particularly with policing colleagues, and that’s predominantly where our equities were at the time in the run-up to lockdown, there were a range of discussions taking place within the Home Office and with policing colleagues.

Ms Davies KC: All right.

Let me move on to my next topic, and that’s victims subject to domestic abuse who also are subject to a no recourse to public funds condition. And, again, I think you will have been given notice as a result of the information in the evidence pack that this was a topic that was likely to come up.

Lady Hallett: I didn’t realise that the question that I have allowed includes a reference to Parliamentary debate; if you could exclude that part.

Ms Davies: I was intending to exclude it, thank you, my Lady.

So women who were subject to domestic abuse are clearly trapped as a result of the domestic abuse and they need to leave, come lockdown they are also trapped as a result of lockdown, we know that the regulations allow them to leave but there are all sorts of issues about whether they know that, where they can go and so forth, so lockdown traps people.

If you also have no recourse to public funds and you are dependent financially on your abuser, then you are destitute if you leave as a result of abuse. So those women were, as it were, subject to a triple threat, a triple trap.

You were lobbied extensively – and when I say you I mean the Home Office and you as Home Secretary – extensively by violence against women and girls sector, by the Mayor of London, by Liberty, by a number of organisations to suspend the no recourse to public funds condition during the pandemic, so that, for our cases, women who were subject to domestic abuse and had that condition hanging over them would find it easier to leave because they would not be facing destitution.

And the Home Office took a – didn’t just ignore that, there was a positive decision not to suspend the condition, wasn’t there?

Dame Patel: So the Home Office did not ignore those requests at all. I think categorically I should just put that on the record. There is plenty of evidence actually across government, it is not just solely a Home Office decision, around the policy of no recourse to public funds. The prospect of destitution crosses over into the territory of accommodation and homelessness, which was the area of MHCLG.

I would need to check, my Lady, but I think there was a legal case involving MHG – MHCLG at the time, around no recourse to public funds, and certainly there were discussions across government that were taking place. This policy area also cuts across DWP, would be familiar with that as well.

Then my final point to make on this, it would specifically address the issue of concerns around funding and support for those that did not have access to public funds, that the coronavirus financial measures, including help and support, but it’s mainly support if – I should say, around accommodation, which is not a Home Office decision, but also NHS, access to health and healthcare, without having any personal data being shared or transferred over to the Home Office, because this does move into the area of immigration and immigration enforcement, if you do not have a legal right to be in the country and you’ve got a case going through the courts and things of that nature, that there would be protections in place and support in place. And in particular, may have to check the record, but MHCLG themselves had put funds aside particularly around accommodation provision for migrant women and working with refuges. I may have to check the record on that, but that was my recollection of the work that took place in response to the requests at the time.

Ms Davies KC: I’m going to move on to funding in just one moment, but just to follow that up, the easing, as it were, in relation to housing and homelessness assistance was in a letter call that’s become known as Everyone In from the MHCLG, which meant that local authorities would house rough sleepers regardless of their immigration status.

This was a different call, it was a call for those people who had no recourse to public funds as part of their leave to remain, so they’re lawfully in the country but with that condition on them, for that to be suspended during the pandemic so that women who were subject to domestic abuse could leave, would be able to access public funds and would not have to go through the appalling additional trauma of sleeping rough in order to be picked up through that Everyone In initiative.

Wouldn’t that have been the humanitarian thing to do –

Dame Patel: So I –

Ms Davies KC: – to suspend –

Dame Patel: I can’t –

Ms Davies KC: – the whole condition?

Dame Patel: So, well, we could get into a wider debate about the implications of suspending that condition, because there are then legal implications. If you suspend a condition for a period of time, if you then reinstate those conditions, it then takes – and I do recall reading advice at the time, some of the legal challenges just around suspending – it may seem straightforward to organisations lobbying for that change, but I do specifically recall receiving advice at that time saying that it would be legally challenging to then go back and restate. And I appreciate, the organisation you’re representing, the position that you take around no recourse to public funds, but obviously that condition exists for a reason.

You’ve asked specifically around accommodation and housing provision. My understanding at the time was that MHCLG in particular were providing funding, so that – it’s not just the Everyone In policy, which clearly I do recall that existed there for good and proper reasons, because homelessness – there we have to protect people that were homeless, but specific funding for refuges so that they could provide that provision that was deemed to be so essential and that was raised at the time.

Ms Davies KC: Can I move on to funding.

Lady Hallett: I’m afraid it’s going to have to be the last area, I’m afraid, sorry. I should have taken a break ages ago, I’m sorry.

Ms Davies: I’m grateful, and I’m aware of the stenographer.

Last topic, funding, and it’s page 20 of your witness statement. You were asked about this by Mr Keith. Is it coming up?

Dame Patel: No, not yet.

Ms Davies KC: I’m hoping it’s coming up.

Dame Patel: We’re getting there.

Ms Davies KC: I’m grateful, page 20, paragraph 79, it’s the list of funding, you’ll recall that.

So 8 April, £750 million additional funding for a number of things including domestic abuse, and that’s not actually allocated on 8 April, that takes time to allocate. That’s right, isn’t it?

Then (iv), 11 April, that’s the same day as the “You Are Not Alone” campaign, and the Home Office announces an additional £2 million for the domestic abuse helpline, so that’s concrete money, that’s allocated and announced that day, it goes out very quickly; yes?

Dame Patel: That’s correct, yes.

Ms Davies KC: Then we come to 2 May, and that’s £76 million for a number of different groups, and when we break it down the – it’s in your footnote 54 – the amount to domestic abuse groups is 25 – £27 million, I’m so sorry, £15 million for Ministry of Justice –

Dame Patel: That’s right.

Ms Davies KC: – £10 million for MHCLG, another £2 million from the Home Office; and that’s the allocation from the original money of the £750 million on 8 April.

Dame Patel: That’s right.

Ms Davies KC: It’s not additional to that, is it?

Dame Patel: That’s right.

Ms Davies KC: No, so if we look at the £750 million on 8 April, it’s £27 million plus the additional £2 million from the Home Office that comes to domestic abuse?

Dame Patel: That’s correct.

Ms Davies KC: The money doesn’t actually start to get allocated and reach the recipients until after 19 June. You may not recall that exact date, but does that sound right to you?

Dame Patel: So I do recall – I recall a few things actually. It took time to do the allocations and, my Lady, I can’t remember why, but I think there could have been some Treasury processes around that which could be why.

Secondly, I think we may have had – we’ll have to go and check the record – a system where organisations, including organisations such as Southall Black Sisters and Solace Aid, could then apply directly to the Home Office. That might’ve taken time, that could be why the money was not allocated. But we’d have to check the record as to what the processes were around that, because having an allocation of funds from the Treasury does not automatically mean they go out immediately, there are various organisations we were speaking to.

And just one final point to make about the money: I had been in touch with, for example, it could have been Women’s Aid, who specifically wrote to me at my request where I’d asked them for a breakdown of the type of funding that they needed and what that would be used for. So understanding how this money could be allocated resourcefully, to provide the direct and additional help that was really needed, was certainly part of the process that we were undertaking at the time.

Ms Davies KC: So two questions – and they are my last two questions – arise from that under this topic.

Could we have up on the screen INQ000280173, please. I’m hoping that that comes up quickly. That is a letter sent to the Government Legal Department by those who instruct me, in fact Public Interest Law Centre on behalf of Southall Black Sisters, and it’s addressed specifically to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government, but I imagine it probably crossed the Home Office desk as well, and that’s dated 27 April.

And it’s a lengthy letter, it’s over 34 pages, but it is in effect a threat of legal action. It’s a pre-action protocol letter of claim in respect of the government failing to provide that emergency funding for the domestic abuse charities. That’s 27 April.

It’s right, isn’t it, that the £27 million that we’ve just looked at was allocated on 2 May. Was it allocated as a result of that threat of legal action?

Dame Patel: I – I can’t – I don’t think I could give a categorical answer to that because, my Lady, I know the work that took place within my department, I cannot speak for other government departments such as MHCLG, it’s referenced in this pre-action protocol. My government department, my officials and our safeguarding minister worked diligently with many of the third party organisations, the frontline organisations. I think I mentioned Women’s Aid, Refuge, the domestic abuse national helpline. I may have visited some of them at the time.

For us, and for me in particular as Home Secretary, we needed to understand what the pressures were, where the money was needed, how we could actually allocate the resources that we had – these are significant resources – resources allocated in the best possible way.

And just one final point to make as well: because of lockdown, many of these organisations, they didn’t have their offices up and running in the way in which we see now and today. We had gone into partnership with Fujitsu, for example, to provide laptops and all sorts of equipment to help many of these organisations assist victims of domestic abuse, vulnerable people, while they were working from home and doing all sorts of things.

So there was a panoply of activity taking place so, if I may, in response to your question about this actual pre-action protocol, I can’t categorically say that this is what prompted the allocation of resources. Certainly for this department, within my own department we had a lot of work under way anyway.

Ms Davies KC: What it comes down to, though, Dame Priti, doesn’t it, is – for all the reasons you’ve just explained – the money doesn’t come out to providers until after mid-June 2020, when the key times were March, April, May? Isn’t that too late?

Dame Patel: So we were working with all the providers and organisations throughout that period, and I know officials in the department were looking at all sorts of support mechanisms, solutions. We wanted to be part of the solution to what was a national challenge, so this for us – if we could fast-track resources, of course we’d be at the front of the queue to do that, but we were working alongside our partners and then trying to give them the financial support in the right way. And additional support, I should add, laptops being one example, doing working across government departments being another, particularly with the MoJ. This focuses on MHCLG and working with the Ministry of Justice on how they could provide support as well.

We – the MoJ –

Lady Hallett: I think we’ve got the message.

Dame Patel: They had their own silver group, so we were pretty – pretty engaged on this.

Ms Davies: Thank you, Dame Priti.

Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Ms Davies.

Thank you very much, Dame Priti.

The Witness: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you for your patience, staying here all this afternoon.

(The witness withdrew)

Lady Hallett: I think we are going to have one more witness, and so we will take a break now, and I shall return at 25 to 4. And I am finishing at 4.30 at the latest this evening, just so everyone knows.

(3.25 pm)

(A short break)

(3.35 pm)

Mr Keating: My Lady.

Lady Hallett: Mr Keating.

Mr Keating: Could I call Jun Pang, please.

Ms Jun Pang

MS JUN PANG (affirmed).

Questions From Counsel to the Inquiry

Lady Hallett: I’m sorry you have been kept waiting for so long and not even knowing whether we’d reach you or not, but anyway we have, so thank you for your patience.

Mr Keating: Could I echo that comment and also thank you for attending today and assisting the Inquiry with its investigations.

We’ve got two statements, I’m not going to invite you to bring them up on the screen at the moment but there’s a statement from Sam Grant, your colleague and the advocacy director at Liberty, and that statement is dated 4 August, and within that 23-page statement he provides 37 exhibits. And he is unable to attend today, so you have kindly stepped in to adopt his statement and you have given a statement yourself to say that you have considered his material and you are able to speak on behalf of Liberty, the organisation from which you both work from, in relation to those matters.

So thank you in relation to that, and as to who you work for and what you do, I’ve touched upon it: you are a policy and campaigns officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties, also known as Liberty for short, and Liberty is a long-standing, respected independent organisation which deals with civil liberty matters, and, as Mr Grant describes it, it’s a human rights organisation that campaigns for every individual in the UK to be treated fairly with dignity and respect.

Is that a fair summary –

Ms Jun Pang: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: – of Liberty? Thank you.

Within the team you’re in, the focus is on policy, public campaigning, parliamentary advocacy and policy research, and the statements that have been provided on behalf of Liberty set out in chronological order the considerable work Liberty did during the pandemic in relation to policy documents and advocating in relation to the UK Government legislation and regulations, and highlighting issues that emerged.

What I would like to do today is that – your statement and the statement of Liberty is quite wide-ranging, because the legislation was quite wide-ranging, dealing with a huge amount of areas.

Those areas are going to be dealt with in a number of different modules, so I’m going to focus on some narrow issues with you today and have your assistance.

At the genesis of the legislation was the Coronavirus Bill, which became the Act, and that’s something that Liberty touch upon in their statement, describing it as extraordinary in the sense of its breadth and extent of powers it gave the government and the speed it progressed on to the statute books.

Is that a fair description of the Act, or the Bill which then became the Act?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes. I think that from start to finish when the Coronavirus Bill was first published, at more than 300 pages, spanning areas including new extraordinary detention powers, border closure powers, easements on social care and other care provision, the wide range of areas it covered and the little amount of time it was allowed to be scrutinised by Parliament was extremely worrying to us.

Counsel Inquiry: One feature of the evidence is the observations made by Liberty regarding the sunset clause in relation to that Bill which became the Act. Perhaps you could set out what those concerns were and what a sunset clause is?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes, absolutely.

So essentially a sunset clause is when the legislation would cease to be in operation, and at the time when the Bill was published one of the most significant things that we noticed was that there was a two-year sunset clause, which we felt was unprecedented and was a real bar to effective scrutiny, and at the time we recommended that the Bill be amended to implement a three-month sunset clause instead.

Now, as I mentioned already, the Bill was first debated on 24 March 2020 and by 25 March, the next day, it had passed all its stages with scarcely any amendment and received Royal Assent, or in other words passed.

Parliamentarians did secure a six-monthly debate on the Act, and that was one of the amendments that were made, but we felt that even with that addition it was not enough to ensure that the Act could be adequately scrutinised.

Counsel Inquiry: I’ll move on to the vehicle which brought in the lockdown, which was actually regulations which were brought through via the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984, and that was done by way of a statutory instrument, the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) Regulations.

That’s something again which is touched upon in the documentation prepared by Liberty, that there was concerns expressed that such a significant piece of – such a significant matter was dealt with by way of a statutory instrument; is that right?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes. I think statutory instruments or secondary legislation in general is much less – it has a lot less scrutiny than primary legislation, which has to be scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament, whereas statutory instruments are made by a minister, can only be – can’t be amended by Parliament, can only be, you know – it’s kind of an all or nothing approach, and we felt that given the breadth of the – and the severity of the restrictions that were being proposed and introduced, that secondary legislation, especially the urgent procedure that was being relied on by government in the Public Health Act, was inappropriate.

Counsel Inquiry: The counterargument would be this is an unprecedented public emergency, the greatest threat in a hundred years to the health of the country, and this was what had to be done in the time available. What would you say to that?

Ms Jun Pang: I think that it was absolutely obviously a moment of crisis, and government rightly was – needed to act to protect human life, but I would say that – and we said at the time – there were other ways that the government could have legislated. For example, we flagged the Civil Contingencies Act which was passed in 2004, and the purpose of that Act was precisely to make provision for, you know, civil contingencies or, in other words, emergency situations where rapid decision-making would need to take place.

I think it’s really vital that, you know, rapid decision-making in an emergency context does not obscure the need for effective parliamentary scrutiny, which is integral to our democracy and also ensures that decision-making is transparent and accountable and responsive to the needs of people who it’s going to affect. And we recommended that the regulations at the very minimum be used – be made under the CCA instead of the Public Health Act because it had safeguards, for example, greater Parliamentary scrutiny, regulations which lapsed within seven days if they were not debated and approved by Parliament, and other measures like that, which the regulations as they were didn’t.

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve heard evidence already regarding the Civil Contingencies Act, and I’m not going to – in this module and at an earlier module – so I’m not going to trouble you any more about that.

I’m going to move on now to an issue which we’ve heard evidence about today, which is the lack clarity between legislation, regulations and guidance.

In relation to that point, it’s fair to say that Liberty was highlighting from the outset the issue between guidance and actually the difference between what the regulations say, that there was a contrast and it led to confusion?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes, absolutely. I think that in circumstances like this, in a public health emergency, what is really vital for government is to ensure that its communications are clear, and also clear about the difference between what is effectively best practice guidance and what is actually the letter of the law, and what is unlawful and lawful activity, because this is important for individuals to be able to know what behaviour is lawful and unlawful, but also for the police to be able to know what the limits are of their enforcement powers. And I think what we saw, and as you may have heard – for example in the matter of, early on, the number of times a person could go out for exercise – there was confusion between all of these different government guidance, what the police were doing in practice, what was in the regulations, which led people to be incredibly confused about what was happening, and also for quite egregious kind of incorrect enforcement to occur.

Counsel Inquiry: Could I stick with the term “confusion” and quote Dame Priti Patel, who agreed that the regulations themselves were confusing. Perhaps we can touch upon a specific area as to regulations.

Regulations: as we’ve heard already, there was numerous regulations between March through the summer, and then I want to pick up on one area which is the tiers and the regulations in relation to that.

Perhaps I could summarise what’s set out in Mr Grant’s statement at paragraph 33. We know on 12 October the Prime Minister announced a tier scheme of alert levels, Tier 1, Tier 2, Tier 3, and in relation to a briefing prepared by Liberty around that time – perhaps we could bring that up, that’s INQ000130683, and it may be it’s an illustration of the documentation Liberty were preparing at the time. This is probably a short document, but these briefings were being prepared, sent out to a number of different stakeholders, or to parliamentarians, and in relation to this we can see in paragraph 1 is that there was concern regarding it being convoluted and confusing.

It talks about that the regulations – the idea was in fact to try to simplify and clarify the impenetrable web of laws currently in force across England, which the submission is that they were vast and complex. But these regulations which were brought in for tiers ran to over 36,000 words and nearly 90 pages, and that they established intricate exceptions. And it’s easier to see in front of us, but as illustrations for Tier 2 regulations, there are 17 distinct and lengthy exemptions to the prohibition on indoor gatherings of two or more people, and 16 exemptions to the prohibition on participating in a gathering of more than six people outdoors, and a lack of clarity as regards the precise contours of the law is a recipe for uneven enforcement and police action.

It’s a granular example, but that even when there was greater efforts to make clarity to the regulations, the concerns of Liberty was that that wasn’t happening, the confusion was still continuing; is that right?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes, and I think again going back to the public communications point, this was – here we’re talking about the regulations as they were in the law.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Ms Jun Pang: The way they’re translated into the public communications about what was and wasn’t allowed add another layer of complexity, and then of course what was happening in practice and what the police were doing, and also understood themselves to be doing, also differed. And I think this just almost got worse throughout the pandemic, as there were more and more laws, more changes to laws that people had to keep up with in order to know whether very everyday activities were allowed or permitted to do.

Counsel Inquiry: As a fair summary, and we’ve dealt with it in a high level way, but there was a number of regulations and each one of those regulations was subject to multiple amendments; and, from your perspective, was it easy to be able to keep up with those changes so that you could advise regarding whether it was proportionate or the drawbacks of those measures?

Ms Jun Pang: I think, in honesty, it was quite difficult an exercise and that’s as, you know, people whose job in day in and day out is to scrutinise legislation. And to be candid, if I weren’t in this job and were just, you know, a person trying to keep up with – trying to understand the situation as it was, it would be incredibly confusing, and I think this was really exacerbated by the fact that Parliament was incredibly sidelined. For example, the first lockdown regulations, Parliament only debated them on 4 May, which was about a month after they had come into force and actually been, you know, in operation. And by that time the regulations had actually been amended, and part of the benefit of robust parliamentary scrutiny is that these issues can be aired in a public forum, there can be discussion and debate, and also understanding of the practical effect and that can kind of trickle out into the wider public consciousness; but in this case we just had an incredibly confusing environment in which, you know, we were trying to influence and understand how these laws could be potentially made more proportionate or, you know, the next set of laws could be more proportionate.

Counsel Inquiry: Let’s look at an example, and this is an area which I think my Lady has commented upon this morning, which was section 51 and schedule 21 of the Coronavirus Act, and this relates to the powers in relation to dealing with potentially infectious persons, where they can be required to undertake a screening. That’s something which was touched upon in the material prepared by Liberty, and I’m going to summarise and perhaps give an illustration.

There was concerns expressed by Liberty, was there not, that the definition of potentially infectious people was too broadly defined, could capture a huge part of the population at any given moment –

Lady Hallett: Pandemic; all of us.

Mr Keating: Absolutely. I think the question, my Lady, was: well, was this actually ever used and utilised, and a view initially expressed this morning – I hope I’m not misstating it – was that it wasn’t utilised.

But in fact your work shows that it was utilised, and concerns were expressed about the applications of schedule 21, and there was prosecutions in relation to it, the exercise of fixed penalty notices in relation to it, and those concerns led to the Crown Prosecution Service having to review penalties; isn’t that correct?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: It was a long summary, and thank you very much for confirming that. In your evidence, you have mentioned the number of penalties which were reviewed, and we also have the benefit of other evidence which has provided an up-to-date figure. So perhaps through you we can adduce the more up-to-date evidence, if that’s okay.

Ms Jun Pang: Yeah.

Counsel Inquiry: That is the statement of Gregor McGill, who is the director of legal services at the Crown Prosecution Service, and we’re grateful for the Crown Prosecution Service providing this statement.

We see here at paragraph 148 is that they had started to do monthly reviews, and they did monthly reviews after Liberty and other organisations had raised concerns about penalties which had been imposed, and as a result of that – so if we can just actually scroll out – there is a graph in page 31, from recollection, a table which might make this a little bit easier. There we are.

If we look at the top table, in relation to this wider review which was done in relation to, first, the schedule 21 Coronavirus Act, we see that there was a total of 311 cases charged and there was a 100% fail record because every one of those cases was incorrectly charged. So that’s pretty unimpressive in terms of a statistic.

At the same time they looked at the wider regulations at that time, and this is further back, so it’s looking back, a retrospective assessment. Of the 2,607 cases charged under the regulations, there still was a significant error rate, and that was 532.

That accords with the concerns which were being expressed to your organisation at the time; isn’t that correct?

I’m just going to utilise some of the matters which Mr McGill helpfully sets out in his statement, and we could perhaps go back to paragraph 149 where he sets out the errors in relation to this review undertaken by the Crown Prosecution Service.

It says that the errors included offending in England, charge under Welsh regulations or vice versa, evidential issues such as the charging of homeless people being outside without a reasonable excuse.

Pausing there, that was another feature which Liberty advocated significantly upon, wasn’t it, the interests of homeless people and the reasonable excuse aspects?

Offences charged, as we just touched upon, under section 51, schedule 21, and where there was no evidence that the defendant was potentially infectious, and it says, as we’ve just seen, every case was charged under error.

And offences, lastly, prosecuted under the wrong iteration of the regulations, using repealed regulations, a feature of the churn of regulations which took place.

So we talked about confusion, confusion in guidance, confusion in the regulations, and here we have utter confusion in the actual prosecution of these matters, and it led to the Crown Prosecution Service having to have cases brought back at the Magistrates Court and charges to be withdrawn.

I should mention, by way of completeness – and we have the evidence, in due course, of the Crown Prosecution Service uploaded – that a number of these charging decisions were, the majority were police, were decisions made by the police, and this is where the Crown Prosecution Service largely was seeking to correct something which had taken place by other bodies.

Is that a fair summary?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes, I think it is.

I just wanted to also flag a concern as well, which is that this is – these statistics are ones that we followed throughout the pandemic, and they are – they do come from the CPS review, but of course a lot of cases, as the CPS statement says at paragraph 153, says that it doesn’t include cases which were finalised using the Single Justice Procedure, and so the actual picture of cases and the fact that people weren’t able to, for example, explain if they had a reasonable excuse in those circumstances, means that the incidence of potentially incorrect or – charging decisions could be much broader than even what is already demonstrated in this.

Counsel Inquiry: But it’s a recognition of the work Liberty did, these are areas which you raised at the time, concerns, they were investigated, and it was borne out that there was difficulties which were addressed.

Let me move on now, please, to – we’ve got two or three more areas I’d like your assistance with, I’m very grateful – another area we have touched upon is the right to protest. I’m not sure if you heard some of the evidence this morning and this afternoon in relation to that.

Two points in relation to this is that there was – in your view, was there clarity as to the position as to the right to protest under the statutory or regulatory framework during the pandemic?

Ms Jun Pang: No. I think that the legal status of protest throughout the pandemic was incredibly unclear. I think that legislation often either provided – failed to provide an explicit exemption for the right to protest or it – and then sometimes it provided that exemption under certain circumstances, for example that it would be social distanced, there would be risk assessments taking place. But this really fluctuated through the different phases of the pandemic, and I guess from our point of view the practical effect of this is that individuals seeking to exercise their fundamental rights didn’t actually know for sure whether they could, and also obviously the other side of that is that the police didn’t understand their responsibilities to facilitate the right to protest which –

Counsel Inquiry: We’ve heard from the police perspective how there was huge challenges on the police in the application of the framework which they were operating underneath.

Looking forward, from your perspective, if there was another pandemic, what is the proportionate solution to balance restrictions on movement if there was to be a pandemic on one hand, and also those human rights, the right to protest?

Ms Jun Pang: I think that, more broadly, human rights and the exercise of fundamental rights like the right to protest needs to not be seen as contradictory or opposite to protecting public health, but actually really essential to ensuring that decisions are scrutinised and including to ensure that government is accountable in making these decisions. And so it can’t be that, for example, as we saw in the pandemic, that there is lack of clarity about whether an exercise of the right to freedom of expression and free assembly is – it needs to be clear that it’s exempt in certain circumstances, including, you know, whether it’s social distanced and risk assessment takes place.

Lady Hallett: I’m sorry to interrupt.

To test that: yes, the right to protest, freedom of assembly, I totally and utterly agree that they are fundamental rights in many ways, but the rest of us had fundamental rights that had enormous restrictions, people couldn’t be with their dying loved one, they couldn’t meet their family.

So if there are those other restrictions on fundamental rights, why should the right to protest be treated differently?

Ms Jun Pang: Thank you, my Lady, for the question. I think that – I think that – I don’t think it’s a question of – I think the government actually answered this question somewhat when they did allow for a protest exemption to happen under certain circumstances where protection of public health was a consideration, and that was kind of built into the exception.

I think that it’s our position, and it was our position, that you could have an exercise of these rights that still upheld the need to protect public health, just as these other restrictions on gatherings, on visiting loved ones were also designed for that purpose.

I think in the circumstances of the pandemic, as they were, especially given the lack of scrutiny that was allowed for legislation even by elected legislators, the lack of that possibility made it even more important in a way for people to be able to continue to make their voices heard, because democracy, our democratic system had almost taken a pause or a back seat when the executive was making laws at such speed and with such little accountability.

Lady Hallett: Thank you.

Mr Keating: Thank you.

Penultimate area I’d like your assistance upon, and again it’s something which has fed through the work of the Inquiry today in relation to disparities in enforcement. We have had evidence from Martin Hewitt this morning; the reports I know you’ve seen as well in relation to the disproportionate impact upon ethnic minority groups in relation to the enforcement of fines, fixed penalty notices.

So with that background, we don’t need to re-trace all the steps, but I just wanted to draw out from you the sort of catalyst for this work.

It’s right, isn’t it, that your organisation, together with The Guardian, raised this issue in May – is that correct – in 2020, regarding the concern from the first set of figures that there was a disproportionate impact on ethnic minority groups?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes, and this was informed by our long-standing work demonstrating the existing racial disproportionality within the criminal justice system. We knew that – well, we could – we predicted, rightly it emerged, that an overwhelming focus on enforcement of compliance – rather than, for example, trying to encourage compliance through effective public health messaging and other tactics like that – would replicate and echo similar patterns that we see in other elements of the criminal justice system. And Liberty Investigates our investigative journalism unit, found that, for example, people of colour were 54% more likely to be fined than white people, and that was from May 2020.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes, and in relation to that work, which – the material has been exhibited and we have that material, which we’re grateful for – a letter was sent to the Health Secretary, who was responsible as the legislative lead department, on 29 May 2020, highlighting these issues.

I’m going to summarise, if I may, that the concern was that it risked reducing trust at a time where there was a need to have that trust to sustain compliance with the regulations. In relation to that correspondence, did you receive any response from the Health Secretary when you highlighted this disparity and raised concerns?

Ms Jun Pang: Not according to our records.

Counsel Inquiry: Data was one matter I wanted to ask you, when dealing with enforcement, throughout Liberty was asking for disaggregated data, so data which would show the breakdown of fines per ethnic group; isn’t that correct?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: A feature throughout the pandemic.

Ms Jun Pang: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: Was that data which was provided to you?

Ms Jun Pang: I think initially when colleagues did their stories with The Guardian, for example, those were the data then was obtained through FOI requests, freedom of information requests.

Counsel Inquiry: Yes.

Ms Jun Pang: I think afterwards the NPCC did publish data, but at the time we felt that this was sometimes delayed and not – yeah, not timely, and it should have been something that was less of an afterthought and something that was proactive, given the risks of disproportionality.

Counsel Inquiry: Was it something you had to push for?

Ms Jun Pang: We repeatedly made recommendations and suggestions, and I think we had to push for a while for that to be established practice.

Counsel Inquiry: Final area, and I’m going to deal with it briefly but not to – not at the expense of recognising how important an area it is, and we have had evidence about it again today, rightly, in relation to domestic abuse.

Again, this is one of the other limbs of the work of Liberty from the outset, was it not, was raising concerns regarding how the legislation and the regulations were going to impact those who were at risk of domestic abuse; is that right?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes.

Counsel Inquiry: What was, in terms of the high level summary, the concerns of Liberty about the interests of those who were at risk of domestic abuse?

Ms Jun Pang: From early on, we echoed a lot of domestic abuse organisations’ call for the regulations to exempt those who were fleeing harm, and that obviously includes people, survivors and victims of domestic abuse. I think we felt that at the time the exemption within the regulations was still not broad enough –

Counsel Inquiry: Could I trouble you on that one –

Ms Jun Pang: Yes, sure.

Counsel Inquiry: – just to test that. One view, I’m not suggesting it’s my view, but one view is that: the fact that someone would have a reasonable excuse, that would be sufficient if they needed to leave their home. Did Liberty consider that was sufficient, that reasonable excuse aspect?

Ms Jun Pang: I don’t think that it was enough. I think that that was only one element of the regulations. There were other regulations, for example prohibiting public gatherings, that, for example, if … in the case of certain people who may gather to seek support or other issues like that, they may not have been exempt from that.

I think other concerns we had about, in particular, migrant victims and survivors of domestic abuse, is that the lack of, for example, a data sharing firewall between the Home Office and other public services meant that these particular victims and survivors might not feel safe trying to seek support. And that’s obviously an enduring issue, but during the pandemic continued to be something that was quite a significant worry.

Counsel Inquiry: So there was concern that there was a group, a hidden, invisible group of people who were unable to utilise the law to seek support?

Ms Jun Pang: Mm-hmm.

Mr Keating: Okay.

I’m very grateful for your attendance today and your assistance.

They’re all the questions I have, my Lady, and, my Lady, I think you’ve given permission to Mr Thomas King’s Counsel.

Lady Hallett: Mr Thomas.

Questions From Professor Thomas KC

Professor Thomas: Good afternoon, Ms Pang.

I’ve just got a couple of questions for you, which I would like you to help us with. I represent FEHMO, the Federation of Ethnic Minority Healthcare Organisations.

Can you just tell us, please, what were the key concerns that Liberty highlighted in their submissions to the Department of Health and Social Care regarding the negative impact on black, Asian and minority ethnic communities and healthcare workers, migrants, Gypsy, Roma, traveller communities in the context of potential measures? So what were the key concerns?

Ms Jun Pang: Absolutely, and thank you for your question. I think it’s best summarised by the phrase “over-policed and under-protected”. I think, as I’ve mentioned in previous evidence, because of existing – because of what we already know about the disproportionate policing of black, Asian and minority ethnic people, as well as Gypsy and traveller people and other racialised groups, we were incredibly concerned – and unfortunately vindicated in these concerns – that any extension or expansion of enforcement in relation to what was really a public health emergency would disproportionately affect particular communities over others, and that obviously in and of itself this creates unfairness, but also it endangers, you know, the public health objective of having a response that should protect everyone, and not only – well, and shouldn’t target particular people or communities.

I think in terms of the underprotected element, we also worked with specialists in grassroots and other organisations to highlight the fact of insufficient social welfare, housing, other kinds of provision, rights provision, the impact of easements, for example, and the intersectional – the intersection of that with race and ethnicity and how that might mean that certain communities might be suffering a double or triple effect of the pandemic.

Professor Thomas KC: Can I just jump in. What you predicted came to pass, what Liberty predicted came to pass?

Ms Jun Pang: Yes.

Professor Thomas KC: Final question: you mentioned writing a letter to the Secretary of State for Health or his department. Did the government respond to Liberty’s submissions and concerns regarding these potential measures, and were there any policy changes or actions taken in response?

Ms Jun Pang: As far as I know, we didn’t receive a response, and –

Professor Thomas KC: Nothing?

Ms Jun Pang: No. We received occasional responses on particular areas, for example on easements, but that was essentially all the interaction we had.

Professor Thomas KC: Yes, but specifically in relation to the submissions that you brought to the government’s attention, any substantive response to those submissions?

Ms Jun Pang: By and large, no.

Professor Thomas: My Lady, that’s all I ask.

Lady Hallett: Thank you very much, Mr Thomas.

Thank you very much, Ms Pang, I’m very grateful to you.

And just so that you know – I’m sure you do appreciate it, but – I’ve got the written statement that you’ve adopted from Mr Grant, and obviously I’ll take into account very much all the other matters that you raised here. So don’t worry if you haven’t had the chance to say it this afternoon, I will be taking it into account, and the question of easements is quite an interesting one as well. So don’t worry, I will be taking them all into account.

The Witness: Thank you.

Lady Hallett: Thank you for your help.

(The witness withdrew)

Lady Hallett: That’s it, I think, for this week.

Mr Keating: It is.

Lady Hallett: Next week I think we’re giving everybody an opportunity to get up to speed with all the documents that have been disclosed so that we can start the next phase of these hearings.

So we shall return on Monday 20 November at 10.30.

Mr Keating: Thank you, my Lady.

Lady Hallett: Thank you all.

(4.15 pm)

(The hearing adjourned until 10.30 am on Monday, 20 November 2023)