Police officer could lose his job after travelling 20 miles from home during Covid restrictions

A police officer is set to lose his job after walking in Snowdonia – some 20 miles from his home – in breach of Covid-19 rules.

Mark Lee, 43, had travelled to Cwm Idwal with his partner and her autistic child on December 29 last year, when Wales was an Alert Tier 4 area.

Today at Llandudno Magistrates Court, Lee pleaded guilty to being away from his home, which was then in Colwyn Bay, without a reasonable excuse.

Lee, a North Wales Police officer for 12 years, was fined £600 for the offence.

He is also set to have his employment terminated, the court heard.

Police sergeant Mark Lee, 43, leaving Llandudno Magistrates Court after the hearing

Police sergeant Mark Lee, 43, leaving Llandudno Magistrates Court after the hearing

Prosecutor Helen Hall told the court that Lee is a serving police officer, although he had been on long-term sick leave since August 2020.

She said a police sergeant had been at the One Stop filling station in Llandygai at 4.40pm and spotted Lee, of Trefor, Porthmadog.

‘Mr Lee initially waved at (the sergeant),’ said Ms Hall.

The sergeant asked whether Lee should be self-isolating, as he was aware he had previously tested positive for coronavirus.

Lee said he had had no symptoms and there was no requirement to self-isolate.

 But, in a police interview, it emerged Lee had travelled from Colwyn Bay to Snowdonia for a walk in Cwm Idwal with his partner and partner’s child.

The court heard the rules stated exercise must start and finish at your home.

Ms Hall said there had been plenty of other places where the defendant could have taken exercise.

The Welsh lockdown was announced on December 19, but the defendant said he didn’t know about the rules at that time.

Ms Hall told the court it was ‘incumbent’ on police officers to find out what the rules were and familiarise themselves with them.

Sergeant Mark Lee arriving at Llandudno Magistrates Court at an earlier hearing

Sergeant Mark Lee arriving at Llandudno Magistrates Court at an earlier hearing

‘In any event, ignorance of the law is no defence,’ she said. 

Richard Orme, defending, said it was a ‘strange’ situation and that Lee was a man of previous good character who had been ‘mightily brave’ to plead guilty.

Mr Orme said he felt ‘in a strange and almost dreamlike state’, adding: ‘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 had his own mental health issues and been ‘fighting his demons’ at the time of the offence. 

He 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’.

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 is 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 he had served the community in North Wales and the conviction could affect his ‘long term employment’ but that was a matter for the Chief Constable to determine.

The District Judge fined Lee £600 and he must pay £700 prosecution costs.

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Written by Bourbiza Mohamed

A technology enthusiast and a passionate writer in the field of information technology, cyber security, and blockchain

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