A man has been handcuffed and arrested after breaching rules while serving warm soup as part of his charity efforts.
The incident took place in East Sussex, UK, where 56-year-old former business consultant Nick Smith had been cooking soup and serving it to the locals at a skate park on a weekly basis.
While he had been doing this for several months, the father-of-four was recently confronted by the authorities who claimed he had breached coronavirus restrictions because masks were not worn and social distancing was not observed during his recent event on January 25.
On Tuesday, a day after his ‘Love Soup’ event, Smith was invited to meet with the police at the skate park where he serves food every week only to be arrested.
“I’d had the police stop by the soup kitchen before and they were great – convivial and supportive. I had an idea it might have been about the grant that they’d put me forward for,” he recalled.
“I went down to the meeting with the local elected councilor, a solicitor friend and another friend who offered to video the meeting. We were expecting good news and I wanted it on record.
“The police officers arrived and we watched them kitting themselves up by the van – putting on their stab-proof vests and attaching tasers – before they came over.”
After the authorities told Smith he was in breach of coronavirus regulations, one of the police officers started issuing a summons and asked the father for his details.
“I didn’t know what to say and decided my best option was to be quiet. I didn’t know that serving soup could warrant such a brutal response,” Smith said.
“I didn’t refuse to give them my name and address out of any kind of belligerence – I just didn’t want to assist with or engage in this ridiculous and unnecessary farce.”
Following his arrest, the 56-year-old remained in police custody for more than an hour before he was finally released and issued a summons.
“The police said I was in breach of coronavirus legislation but this wasn’t the case. What I’m doing is completely legal,” the cancer sufferer, who claimed to have started his Love Soup project to do “something positive” amid “endless lockdowns” and the “crazy divide,” said.
“People doing charity or volunteer work are exempt from the ‘not being allowed to gather in a group of two or more’ rule. The council have said that the Love Soup common unity kitchen is an essential service and, up until now, every encounter with the police was great.”
Following the controversial arrest, Sussex Police defended their actions by saying Smith wasn’t adhering to government guidelines during his January 25 event.
“Police were called to Station Road in Forest Row at 2.53 pm on Monday (25 January) following reports of a regular gathering where social distancing was not being observed and masks were not worn,” a spokesperson said in a statement to The Argus.
“Officers engaged with the parties involved, explained the restrictions in relation to the lockdown and encouraged compliance with the government guidelines.
“The organizer was arrested at the time, and later issued with a summons to court, having failed to provide contact details so a fixed penalty notice could be issued for the breach.”
They added: “Sussex Police are supportive of community initiatives to help protect the most vulnerable, particularly in these difficult times, and are working with the local authority to ensure individuals have the right safety measures in place.
“To protect themselves and the public, those who are providing a takeaway service are required to complete a risk assessment and adhere to government guidance including social distancing and hygiene measures.
“Where this is not being observed, officers will take enforcement action. Local communities are therefore urged to continue to follow the regulations and guidance to curb the spread of the virus and help save lives.”
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