Skye councillor calls for calm amid fears over lockdown breaches

Skye councillor John Gordon has this week urged island constituents to alert the police to any suspected lockdown breaches rather than taking matters into their own hands.

Councillor Gordon’s comments follow instances brought to his attention in which key workers and residents have been mistaken for visitors to the area breaking lockdown rules and abused as a result.

Statistics released by Police Scotland’s Highland and Island Division this week showed that, as of 10th June, 19 people had been arrested across the region for breaking the conditions of the lockdown since it came into effect across the UK on 23rd March.

The figures also highlighted that 1,702 people had been dispersed by the police when informed, while 334 were dispersed but only when instructed.

A total of five people were dispersed using reasonable force and 148 people were issued with a fixed penalty notice.

The Highland and Islands division has made 19 arrests between 23rd March and 10th June for lockdown breaches.

Commenting to the Free Press this week Police Inspector for the Skye and Lochalsh area, Lynda Allan emphasised that enforcement would be used only as a “last resort”.

She said: “The team across Skye and Lochalsh have and will be out and about engaging with the public, explaining the legislation and guidance and encourage compliance.

“We will use enforcement as a last resort only where there is a clear breach of the legislation which also includes the restrictions on public gatherings.

“The regulations currently remain that people should only leave the house for very limited purposes, for example for basic necessities, for exercise or recreation, for medical needs or travelling for work which cannot be done from home.

“We are asking locals and people considering travelling to the area to take personal responsibility to do the right thing.”

Councillor John Gordon has called for calm.

Councillor Gordon was keen to highlight the positive image of the island but was concerned by occurrences of rash behaviour amid worries across Skye over the spread of Covid-19.

“Skye has always been a welcoming and hospitable island, that can never change,” he said.

“However, it’s been unsettling hearing how key workers and residents of Skye have been subject to abuse and bullying when individuals have thought they were tourists.

“The same advice that’s been given for the last three months still applies; any concerns should be reported to Police Scotland or the Highland Council as per guidelines, no one should be taking it upon themselves to decide a situation.”

Skye resident Mo Taylor, who works for the Skye and Lochalsh Housing Association, told the Free Press this week she had been verbally abused on her way back to Portree while working last month.

On the 29th May, Mo stopped off briefly at Sconser to take a photo of Raasay but was told that she ‘wasn’t welcome on our island’ and to ‘F-off ‘by a male driver who passed her in his car.

“I was on my way back from Balmacara to Portree.

“My mum’s from Raasay, so I thought I would stop and take a picture of Raasay to show her I could see her,” said Mo.

“When I got out of the car to take a photo, the car slowed down and he just shouted out the window at me.

“I was quite taken aback by it – having worked in the job for 27 years it’s not what you expect.

“I was feeling good having left just left a delighted lady in Balmacara with a new home – so it was a bit of a crush on the day.”

Mo said she didn’t report the incident to the police as she thought that something might have happened to the man make him shout abuse at her.

She said: “Maybe he had lost somebody, you just don’t know.”

On 10th June, the Cabinet Secretary for Rural Economy Tourism Fergus Ewing set the 15th July as the provisional date for the incremental re-opening of the tourism industry.

Mr. Ewing said, however, that the timetable was by necessity both “provisional and conditional,” adding: “We very much hope it can be met and that setting it out now, even with caveats, gives the sector greater clarity and some much-needed ability to plan ahead.

Skye Connect Chairperson Dave Till said: “We are fully aware that this a provisional date and ‘opening-up’ will only happen if the scientific advice to government says it is safe to do so.

“We are aware that there is considerable unease in the community but visitors are the lifeblood of the island and support so many families and livelihoods on these islands.”

Mr Till told the Free Press that SkyeConnect was conducting a series of surveys of individual industry sectors to find out which businesses are planning to open and what their capacity for trade might be.

He said: “These surveys will inform our communication to potential visitors planning a trip to Skye. One thing is clear – capacity will undoubtedly be reduced from previous years so it is imperative that visitors book their accommodation, food and drink and experiences in advance.

“We will analyse the guidance to the hospitality sector published on Thursday 18th June and communicate and consult with our membership to establish their ability to operate under the new rules.”

Councillor Gordon said: “I can see the concerns people have of coming out of lockdown and tourism starting again but the Scottish Government has told the industry to prepare for opening, plans must be in place for what tourism will look like beyond the 15th July and Highland Council is working with partners in preparation for this.

“The transition will be challenging but we must work together to see the economy restart as well as protect and continue to follow Government guidelines.”

For full details on phase two of the Scottish Government’s route map through and out of the coronavirus pandemic, click here.