THE chief constable of Dorset Police has said the force has taken "robust action" on anti-lockdown demonstrations in the county.

The warning comes after a dozen people held a demo outside Bournemouth Town Hall and throughout the town and gardens earlier today, Saturday, January 9.

Bournemouth Echo: A protester in Bournemouth A protester in Bournemouth

Chief Constable, James Vaughan has described the rising infection rates, particularly in Bournemouth, as "a dire situation."

He said: "There is an escalating risk and all services are beginning to come under extraordinary strain.

"It’s a fundamental right for people to protest in this country and long may that continue. We are always the ones in the town centre that will try and facilitate lawful and peaceful protests. However, protesting in this time is dangerously irresponsible.

"We have taken robust action today. We’re in lockdown with a dangerously escalating infection rate in Bournemouth and we have decided that we’re not going to facilitate any more marches or protests."

The protest, which saw members of Stand Up Bournemouth congregate at the Town Hall or elsewhere in town in pairs, resulted in at least two arrests and "at least five" fixed penalty notices issued.

Dispersal notices under the antisocial behaviour legislation were also issued on half a dozen occasions.

Bournemouth Echo: Police officers with a protesterPolice officers with a protester

Mr Vaughan said: "We engaged with the organisers of this protest earlier in the week to say ‘enough is enough’ and that we could do without people protesting and marching through Bournemouth when we can barely find beds and ambulances to help people that are dying.

"I’m pretty frustrated and angered by people that are selfishly trying to stand on the back of their right to protest and put everybody, including my officers at risk.

"This protest activity is unhelpful and dangerously irresponsible. We are working to maximise the delivery of vaccines in the county, but every time we have to mess around with protesters, that’s public resources that could be used effectively elsewhere."

Bournemouth Echo: Police officers by the pierPolice officers by the pier

Jonathan Surman, who travelled from Bognor Regis to attend the protest, said he was there to dispel people's concerns about the virus.

He said: "I don’t want people to be pulled down by fear. It’s the hatred and breaking up of families that’s going to be a consequence of this.

"This will go on unless people stand up to it. One day people will wake up and think ‘what happens now and where do we go from here?’

"I ask the same questions. Where are the funerals? Since March in Bognor Regis, I’ve only seen one hearse and it’s never in use.

"If people are dying and lots of bodies are piled up, I don’t see it happening.

"People wearing a mask inside shows me that people have been pushed into total fear overload."

Dorset Police is urging groups such as Stand Up Bournemouth to take their protests online, especially in the coming weeks.

A "tough stance" will be taken in the next few weeks by officers.

Mr Vaughan said: " We will, over the next few weeks, take a tough stance. We’re not out of the woods yet; it’s still escalating. We don’t anticipate infection rates and hospital admissions to slow down until the middle of next week.

"Dorset Police’s stance on Covid-19 hasn’t changed. We continue to offer a proportionate response and we use the four E’s: engage, explain, encourage and enforcement. We only use enforcement when people blatantly flout the regulations.

"I’m grateful to the vast majority of people in the county who are adhering to the restrictions and making the sacrifices. As always, a big shout-out to key and essential workers who are coming into work and keeping people safe. I’m really quite proud of the extraordinary jobs they do every day."