A piece in today’s Times:
The head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has apologised after police ordered her to leave her second home in Wales on Christmas Day for breaching lockdown rules.
Rebecca Hilsenrath was spoken to by officers on two occasions after concerns were raised about her presence in Llanegryn, Gwynedd, by locals.
Ms Hilsenrath and her husband, who had travelled the previous week, agreed on the second occasion to leave within 24 hours, returning to their home in Hertfordshire on Christmas Day.
Yesterday Ms Hilsenrath, a lawyer who has run the EHRC for five years, apologised and said that she had been unaware she was breaching Welsh government guidelines.
The Times understands that members of the EHRC board are considering whether she has brought it into disrepute. The EHRC is responsible for policing equality laws and has the power to institute legal proceedings.
In a statement Ms Hilsenrath said: “I would like to apologise to the local community, where we feel deeply embedded, if I have caused anyone concern or worry at this difficult time. I travelled to our home in Wales before lockdown in the belief it was allowed under the rules at that time.
“We did not realise that lockdown necessitated or even permitted our departure, and after a short and helpful conversation with the local police we agreed at once to leave on Christmas Day and did so without the need for further reminders.”
She is understood to have travelled to Llanegryn on December 18, a day after Matt Hancock, the health secretary, announced that Hertfordshire was moving into Tier 3 restrictions. Because the rules did not come into effect until December 19 she was technically not in breach of the Welsh government ban on people living in English Tier 3 areas coming into the country.
However, guidance at the time stated that “travel into Wales is not allowed without a reasonable excuse” adding: “Having a holiday is not currently considered a reasonable excuse.”
When Wales went in to Tier 4 on December 19 the Welsh government directed anyone who did not live full time in the country to leave immediately. It was this guidance that Ms Hilsenrath did not follow until it was pointed out to her by police.
One resident said that her behaviour was “arrogant”, adding: “The audacity of just turning up and expecting to be welcomed was jaw dropping. They stuck out a mile.”
Louise Hughes, a councillor in Llanegryn, said that her visit had caused deep concern in the rural community. “We have been trying to adhere to the guidelines and it felt like a slap in the face as people as far away as London came over to their second homes,” she said.
“It caused a great deal of anxiety and upset but I am glad she has now apologised and trust it won’t happen again.”
In September when ministers looked at increasing restrictions she said: “We need to find the balance between saving lives from coronavirus, and allowing people the hard won freedoms that are the framework for those lives.”
A Whitehall source said that EHRC commissioners were investigating the incident. “Disciplinary measures are being explored,” they said.
However, an EHRC source said that there had been no discussion about it being a disciplinary matter.
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