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Woman challenged by police to produce mask exemption document

21 January 2021

A woman was removed from a supermarket by police in Kent after refusing to show evidence of her medical exemption from needing to wear a face covering.

National and local press picked up on video recorded by the woman and first published on social media. The Daily Mail branded her an ‘anti masker’.

The woman is seen to correctly and calmly tell police that the evidence is not necessary and shows them a print off from the government website which they refuse to read before escorting her off the premises.

DR UK sought urgent clarification from the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott that officers are clear that there is no legal basis for individuals to be challenged to produce evidence to prove exemptions from wearing face coverings.

A spokesman for Kent Police replied: “At 10.55am on Saturday 16 January 2021 Kent Police was called to Sainsbury’s in Dartford following a report of a dispute between staff and two customers.

“It was said that staff had requested a man and woman to leave the premises due to them not wearing a face mask.

“Officers attended to prevent any possible breach of the peace and sought to engage with the couple before escorting them from the shop. No further action will be taken.

“All officers are familiar with the government’s health-care legislation and, in line with national standards, they have always sought to engage with individuals, and encourage them to comply with the restrictions. Enforcement is only used if it is considered proportionate.

“As a force that has been graded as ‘outstanding’ by the independent policing inspectorate for its legitimacy for the past four years, the public can be assured that officers treat people from all groups in an open, fair and consistent manner.

“No formal complaints have been received from anyone involved in the incident.”

The Kent Messenger originally alluded to ‘confusion’ around the situation of needing evidence of exemption but have now amended their story with better clarification around exemptions:

https://www.kentonline.co.uk/dartford/news/woman-ejected-from-supermarket-for-refusing-to-wear-face-mask-240931/

Government guidance is explicit – exemption documentation is legally unnecessary:

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own/face-coverings-when-to-wear-one-and-how-to-make-your-own

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “We understand the challenges that the police face when dealing with mask refusers. But such people are distinct from people with disability-related exemptions. This woman is calm, clear and correct on the law in the video footage. Disabled people who cannot wear masks are not ‘entitled’ or ‘anti mask’, they are simply trying to go about their daily business.

“Just last week we wrote to Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council about this very issue.

“The language the media uses around disabled people who cannot wear masks is fuelling public fury towards disabled people. The law is clear.”

Read more on our joint letter to Police Chiefs here.