Police Officer fined for visiting Snowdonia during lockdown faces the sack
A police officer is facing losing his job after being fined for visiting Snowdonia during a lockdown in breach of Covid rules.
Mark Lee, 43, who had gone to Cwm Idwal with his partner and her autistic child, pleaded guilty to being away from his home without reasonable excuse.
Lee, who lived in Colwyn Bay at the time of the offence, had gone to Cwm Idwal when Wales was a Alert Tier 4 area on December 29 last year.
Lee, who has been a a North Wales Police officer for 12 years, was fined £600 and ordered pay £700 prosecution costs by a judge at Llandudno Magistrates Court. He is set to have his employment terminated, the court heard.
Prosecutor Helen Hall told the court that Lee, though he had been on long-term sick leave since August 2020, is a serving police officer.
She told the court that a police sergeant saw Lee, of Trefor, Porthmadog when had been at the One Stop filling station in Llandygai at 4.40pm.
Ms Hall said: “Mr Lee initially waved at (the sergeant).”
She said the sergeant then asked whether Lee should be self-isolating, because he was aware he had previously tested positive for Covid-19.
Lee responded that he hadn’t had any symptoms and that there was no requirement for him to self-isolate.
In a police interview, it emerged Lee had travelled from Colwyn Bay to Snowdonia for a walk in Cwm Idwal with his partner and her child.
The court heard the rules stated exercise must start and finish at your home, and Ms Hall said there had been plenty of other places to choose from where the defendant could have gone exercise instead
Though the Wales-wide lockdown had been announced by the Welsh Government on December 19, the defendant said he wasn’t aware of the rules at that time of the offence.
Ms Hall told the court it was “incumbent” on police officers to find out what the coronavirus rules were and familiarise themselves with them, adding that: “In any event, ignorance of the law is no defence.”
The court heard that Lee had been of previous good character.
Richard Orme, who was defending him , said it was a “strange” situation, saying his client had taken a walk in the “wrong place” and that he had been “mightily brave” to plead guilty to the offence.
When addressing the court Mr Orme said he felt “in a strange and almost dreamlike state.”
He added: “I am representing somebody for going for a walk in the wrong place. Meaning no disrespect to the regulations, that’s the position we are in.
“It will be readily accepted by the court that in all of this the greatest loss to Mark Lee is the fact that that guilty plea effectively terminates his employment with the police. It’s an employment he has had for many years.”
Mr Orme said his client “holds his hands up” and accepted that ignorance of the law is no defence.
The solicitor said Lee had been “fighting his demons” at the time of the offence because he was dealing with his own mental health issues, and now faces looking for a new job.
Mr Orme said: “He holds his hands up and says: ‘I could have gone for a walk more locally.'”
He said the child has autism and “that’s perhaps why they had gone further afield”.
‘Look for other work’
Mr Orme added: “He will have to go on the open market and look for other work.
“It beggars belief that we have a police officer who has served the locality and members of he public to the best of his ability with decency and candour.
“It’s to his credit that he’s someone who has pleaded guilty to breaching coronavirus regulations by walking in the wrong place. It’s a mightily brave guilty plea before this court today.
“He’s aware that locally and nationally officers have issued tickets for breaches. He readily accepts that he must abide by the regulations too.”
District Judge Gwyn Jones said: “You decided that day to travel from that address in the Colwyn Bay area where you were residing to the Ogwen Valley with a view to having some exercise.
“That’s obviously not something that was permitted in accordance with the regulations.”
He said the conviction could affect his “long term employment” but that was a matter for the Chief Constable to determine.