Watford’s chief inspector has warned officers will begin handing out fines to people who repeatedly refuse to wear face coverings.

Ian Grout, who was appointed as the town’s new chief a couple of months ago, says police officers will be looking to carry our more enforcement in the town centre - at a time when coronavirus infection rates are increasing.

Figures published by the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) earlier this month showed no one in Hertfordshire had been issued with a fine for not wearing a face covering.

But in an interview with the Observer this week, Chief Insp. Grout indicated police are set to change their approach to those who are flouting coronavirus laws in Watford.

And it will begin with a 'week of action', primarily involving the police and Watford Borough Council, beginning this Saturday.

There will be a higher visibility in the town centre and a greater engagement with businesses and shoppers – and fines may be issued to those who refuse to wear a face covering if they are not exempt.

Watford Observer:

Chief Insp. Grout said: "Starting on Saturday, there will be a week of action with the council. If people refuse to wear masks, we will move towards enforcement.

"Our emphasis has always been on encouragement. We encourage people to comply with the rules. We’ve probably used a lot more encouragement whereas as now, we will still encourage but there has to be a line.

"Now if you walk into the intu centre for example without a mask on we’re not going to fine you straight away. We’ll ask you to put a mask on. If you put a mask on, all well and good. We’ve done our job in my view.

"But if you refuse to put a mask on and walk off as people have done to staff, then at that point you’ll get a ticket.

"When you look at the level of tickets in Watford so far, enforcement is not something we’ve been doing."

Watford Observer:

Chief Inspector Ian Grout

Those who fail to wear a face mask where required, unless exempt, will be fined £200 for the first offence. This will be reduced to £100 if paid within 14 days. After the first offence, there will be no discount.

Repeat offenders will have their fines doubled at each offence, up to a maximum value of £6,400.

Police will also be engaging with business owners – and we asked Chief Insp Grout how the 10pm curfew was going in Watford.

He said: "We’ve seen pictures of other towns where people have been hanging out afterwards but Watford has been very good.

"We work very closely with bars and restaurants but we will be putting some scrutiny around in the evenings to make sure rules are being enforced.”

Watford Observer:

Credit: PA

Met officers in east London came underfire on Twitter when they announced they had fined a takeaway owner £1,000 after a meal was served to a customer inside the store at 10.04pm.

When asked if officers would do the same in Watford, Chief Insp. Grout said: "If we went past a takeaway and they served someone two minutes after 10pm and that’s the first offence, then I’d expect they would be spoken to and a fine not issued.

"If we kept on going back, then at some point you have to draw the line and say look you’re not learning from this.

"I think every case has got be taken on its own merits but I still believe we should be encouraging and reminding people - but if that advice isn’t heeded, then we move to the enforcement.”

Watford Observer:

In a plea to all residents, the chief inspector, who is Watford born-and-bred said: “Whatever your beliefs are, whether you think it’s something that needs to be done or not, when you look at the rate of infections, it is something that is going to affect all of us.

"We all have a duty to protect each other and ultimately wearing a face covering in a shop is one way of doing that.

"I sometimes go into Watford and get a sandwich and you see students coming down from West Herts College and they’ve all got masks on so I think loads of people are complying.

"But there are always that few that give the town a bad name.

"It’s getting that message to those who don’t want to wear a mask. Actually you’re the ones that are different, everyone else is wearing the mask.

"If it means we can play our part in driving the infection down that’s what we’ll do."