POLICE across Dorset have said enforcement action will always be taken when dealing with 'blatant breaches' of Covid-19 rules - as figures showed 1,636 fixed penalty notices had been handed out in the county since the start of the pandemic.

Figures published by the National Police Chiefs' Council show the notices were issued by Dorset Police between March 27 last year and May 16 this year.

However, human rights campaign groups say rapidly changing rules and 'chaotic communications' have led to confusion over the fine system nationally, with some people unaware they were breaking the law.

Assistant Chief Constable Sam de Reya, of Dorset Police, said: "Our officers have used the four 'Es' approach of engaging, explaining and encouraging people to follow the rules.

"When blatant breaches have been identified enforcement action has been taken as a very last resort."

Offences committed in the county include breaching international travel rules, failing to wear face coverings and holding large gatherings when not permitted to do so.

A spokesman from human rights campaign group Liberty, said: "At the outset of this pandemic, the Government created sweeping and coercive powers to enforce rules that were communicated chaotically.

"Add to this rapid changes and local lockdowns and policing was inevitably going to be uneven."

Charity Transform Justice's director Penelope Gibbs said: "The problem with Covid fines is that those fined have often had no idea whether they were transgressing the law or not.

"The new laws have been rushed in, have changed frequently and the police and the public have frequently confused legislation and guidance.

"So many, if not most, Covid fines are unfair."

People issued with a fine – the maximum is £10,000 – have up to 28 days to pay. Those who cannot pay or wish to contest it can take the matter before the courts.

Ms de Reya from Dorset Police added: "In January 2021 the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner carried out a scrutiny process of the fixed penalty notices issued by the force between April 22 last year and 16 January this year.

"The aim of this review was to provide further reassurance to the PCC and the public that we are using our powers legally, appropriately and proportionately."