Sussex Police’s assistant chief constable shares personal experience of coronavirus – and urges public to follow rules

The Assistant Chief Constable of Sussex Police has published a powerful open letter, reflecting on his experience of contracting coronavirus and urging the minority of people who flout the regulations to act responsibly.

Thursday, 14th January 2021, 10:43 am
Assistant Chief Constable Dave Miller

Assistant Chief Constable Dave Miller tested positive for the virus six weeks ago, along with his immediate family, and is continuing to suffer from coughing fits and fatigue.

He said: “The reason I wrote the letter is that I wanted to personalise this.

“I’m really, really lucky that I wasn’t hospitalised, thankfully I didn’t die as many people do.

“More than 1,500 people died yesterday. It’s horrific.”

He said the virus left him breathless, struggling to get up and down the stairs, fatigued, coughing regularly and experiencing brain fog, which he said was ‘scary’.

“I’m no spring chicken but I’m fit and healthy,” he said. “I have a family to look after, I have a responsible job.

“This is impacting as well on our health care workers, they are looking after us at our greatest hour of need.

“If they are unwell, they are not going to be able to do that.”

Dealing with the pandemic is also having an immense psychological toll on healthcare workers, he said.

“I know the devastating personal impact this had had on them – having to deal with people who are critically unwell or have died, and the families of those people who have died,” he said. “It’s just awful for them.”

While he praised the majority of Sussex residents for following the rules and staying at home, he said there remained a small but stubborn minority that continued to flout the rules.

Mr Miller said almost 10 people in Sussex were dying each day from the virus.

“You will be part of perpetuating that if you don’t listen to the guidelines. It’s that stark,” he said.

Asked why some people persist in breaking the rules, he said it was reflective of society and that there were always some people who ‘actively disregard the rules’.

“This is probably no different, but the consequences of this are significant,” he said, highlighting the difference between breaking a minor rule and going to the supermarket without a face mask when you know you have the virus.

“It’s just selfish, there’s no other way of putting it, and dangerous,” he said.

It also increased the danger for police officers and other front line workers who were out in the community and doing an ‘absolutely amazing job’ keeping people safe, he said.

“If you don’t abide by the rules, you are putting them at risk.”

Last weekend, Sussex Police issued 45 Fixed Penalty Notices (fines) to people across the county who were found to have willfully disregarded the lockdown measures.

Mr Miller said police were continuing to adopt an approach which centred on engagement, explaining and encouragement, imploring people to make good choices.

When questioned about the vagueries of some of the rules, such as exactly how far people could travel for exercise, Mr Miller said: “The rules have been put in place to protect people.

“It’s been done very quickly, which of course has caused some confusion among some people.

“We could get into how many miles or what occasion – but people need to use their common sense.

“If they are travelling to do something away from the place they live, ask yourself, does it fit with the rules?

“The rule of thumb I use is, if you’re not sure, don’t do it.

“This is not complicated, I don’t think.”

He said police would ‘not be arbitrary’ but would be balanced when interacting with the public, engaging people where they had made a genuine mistake and reminding them of the rules.

However in cases where people were holding huge parties or refusing to wear masks, he said police would enforce the rules.

Mr Miller is also chairman of the Sussex Resilience Forum, a multi-agency partnership, which last week declared a major incident in the county due to the pressures from the pandemic.

Declaring a major incident a well-rehearsed and recognised process for times of significant demand, which enables different services to work effectively together.

This could include refreshing plans for excess deaths, such as arranging temporary morgues, supporting the ambulance service by drafting in firefighters or the military to assist, and further supporting NHS staff, he said.

A major incident was also declared last year at the outbreak of the virus, but comparing the current moment to the peak of the first wave, he said: “Frankly I think it’s worse. I don’t think that’s particular to Sussex.”

The new virus strain was highly transmissible, he said, with many people not showing symptoms and unknowingly passing it on to others.

And despite the vaccination programme, with more than 30 sites now up and running across Sussex, he said: “We haven’t got this under control yet.

“Anyone who is not afraid of this has misunderstood the situation we are in.”

Read Mr Miller’s open letter to the public below:

Thinking back to this time last year, I remember using the word ‘coronavirus’ as something quite removed from my daily life. A talking point.

A virus, rapidly spreading in the Far East, though not yet impacting us here in the UK. 

As the police, we planned for its probable arrival.

Developing a strategy around a possible worst case scenario as we would for any major incident and indeed, along with other public sector agencies, we had plans in place for pandemic flu. 

But this turned out to be quite different.

We could never have imagined what we are faced by now - our country, gripped by a disease which is not only controlling lives, it’s taking them too.

All of us have been seriously affected by Covid – whether that’s contracting the disease, lockdown, being furloughed, or losing someone.

I write to you now as someone who tested positive six weeks ago, along with my immediate family. 

Today, I still suffer from this invisible enemy – the coughing fits and fatigue for example.

I have a brother who is working exhaustingly to keep a care team running in Brighton; watching him struggle as they attempt to provide 24/7 care to people who desperately need it. 

As a school governor and father, I too am experiencing the challenges parents are facing as yet again they are asked to balance work and childcare at short notice. 

Like many of us, I have friends in the NHS and hear how very difficult it has been and continues to be for them, their patients and families.

None of us are immune. None of us. And seems to be a complete lottery as to how we’ll be affected.

We can all contract it and pass it on, some of us without even knowing we are doing it.

Through my role leading the Resilience Forum, I see my colleagues in the public sector doing all that they can to fulfil the commitment they made when choosing a public service career.

NHS staff working night and day to save lives.

Teachers rapidly adapting their techniques to continue supporting our next generation and the social workers, preventing harm as a result of complex living environments.

It’s a true multi-agency partnership – police officers working on logistics, fire officers helping to manage vaccinations, people working through the night to ensure those who require PPE receive it.

Twelve months ago, while I knew this was coming, I was concerned, not fearful. Now I am.

I am worried for the people who are vulnerable; for the elderly.

I fear for our children and the lack of socialisation they are experiencing.

I worry for the long-term impact of Covid on myself and my family.

But most of all, I worry about the people who are not adhering to the guidelines – the ones not concerned by police enforcement or social responsibility.

The ones where even the pain and suffering that this horrible virus is inflicting on humanity isn’t enough to prevent them from taking responsibility and keeping each other safe.

Fortunately, as we heard from the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, and Martin Hewitt, Chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, this week; the vast majority of people are law abiding and as a Chief Police Officer, I thank you for this.

In Surrey and Sussex, the vast majority of people listen, accept the advice and take personal responsibility to play their part when it is needed most.

Yet sadly there is still a minority who think the law, and the guidance, does not apply to them.

We are in a third national lockdown. 

Our excess death rate has risen to its highest level since World War Two. And the infection rate continues to climb exponentially.

It is therefore not ok to be reckless or irresponsible because we are tired, frustrated, bored.  

I know it’s difficult, but it’s just not acceptable to bend the rules, even slightly. 

I say that as a neighbour, member of the public, father, friend and also as a senior police leader.

Which is why, as the police service, we will continue to support our healthcare colleagues by doing all that we can to keep people safe and prevent deaths.

We will continue to adopt an approach which centres on engagement, explaining and encouragement, imploring people to make good choices.  

For those who blatantly disregard the rules, we will ensure they are dealt with when justified, necessary and proportionate because they are putting others at risk. 

People are dying and that’s not acceptable. 

Please respect that our police officers and staff have a job to do, both in day-to-day policing and in supporting the Covid effort.

Expect they may interact with you, ask you questions, encourage you to consider your actions. 

They are there putting themselves, and therefore their families at risk, daily doing a very challenging job at the best of times – catching criminals, keeping people safe, answering emergency calls, responding to incidents, investigating crime and the many other things the police service needs to do to deliver the best service we can.

I’m immensely proud of them, but it’s far from easy even for our committed people.

As police officers we swear to protect life first and foremost.

Which is why when every unnecessary contact is a possible infection, another hospital bed and potentially another life lost, we will do all that we can to play our part in stopping this virus.

We ask that you do the same – stay home, save lives, protect our NHS.