Surrey Police is facing its 'biggest challenge yet' since the start of the pandemic, a chief constable has warned.

Chief Constable Gavin Stephens says that new strain of coronavirus has resulted in more of the forces' employees currently off sick.

He urged that residents across Surrey continue to adhere to government guidelines and to stay home to protect the lives of frontline workers and those working in public services.

He said: “We have seen a high level of compliance in Surrey, even during the Christmas and New Year period, and I would like to once again thank the county’s residents doing the right thing and staying at home.

“However, the situation the force is currently facing is much more serious than it has been so far and this has presented us with additional challenges.

“The robust preventative measures that we put in place at the start of the pandemic have stood us in good stead so far. However, the new variant of the virus is so transmissible that even these robust measures are sometimes insufficient to protect our staff.

“We had to close Staines custody centre for 12 days last month, which meant that only two out of our three custody suites were open, resulting in staff having to travel further for work and to transport prisoners in order to keep people safe.

“Our frontline officers and staff are used to putting themselves at risk every day – that is part of the job.

Surrey Comet: Stock image Stock image

"But this time is different – they are not only putting themselves but also their loved ones in harm’s way – and that is why I am appealing to the public now more than ever to strictly follow the rules and stay at home to save lives.”

Despite these challenges, CC Stephens reassured Surrey residents that the Force remained resilient, and would continue to police the pandemic alongside business as usual.

He said: “There will soon be life after the pandemic, and it is so important that we have a strong sense of community and support for policing.

"We will engage with people who appear to be in breach of the regulations and we will be strongly encouraging compliance with the new lockdown.

“However, these new regulations need little explanation, so where people show a blatant disregard for the rules, we will not hesitate to take enforcement action.

"In the last two weeks, we have issued one £10k Fixed Penalty Notice and one summons for holding a gathering of 30 people or more.

“We have also issued 572 Fixed Penalty Notices between the start of the lockdown on 23 March and 5 January for contravention of lockdown regulations.

“However, the risk of a fine should not be the motivation for people to follow the rules – the motivation should be the pain and suffering that this virus is inflicting and which is affecting us all.”