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Tonbridge Covid marshal hired by private contractors TMS Protection removed after 'aggressive' stop and search

A coronavirus marshal has been removed "with immediate effect" after carrying out an "aggressive" stop and search in a Kent town centre.

The street wardens, wearing hi-vis jackets, have been deployed at the order of the UK government to offer advice on social distancing and encourage people to wear face masks to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Tonbridge cleaner Floyd Langridge, 44, says the Covid marshals abused their position
Tonbridge cleaner Floyd Langridge, 44, says the Covid marshals abused their position

They have no enforcement powers, but Tonbridge resident Floyd Langridge says a Covid marshal "abused" his position when he was chased and grabbed outside Waitrose in Sovereign Way, near Tonbridge High Street, on December 10.

The 44-year-old, who was having a cigarette while walking from his home to the shops, was left "shaken" by the episode after being accused of smoking cannabis, threatened with arrest and filmed on a body camera.

Mr Langridge, who works as a part-time cleaner, said: "There were crowds of people going into the post office and not social distancing, but the two marshals were not interested in that at all."

He added: "I felt intimidated and was frightened. One of the marshals was a big man and very aggressive. He grabbed hold of my pockets and tried to arrest me."

Tonbridge Council says the Covid officer has been replaced with "immediate effect" after he was hired by private contractors, TMS Protection, who specialise in providing security staff in Kent, London and Sussex.

The incident happened outside Waitrose, in Sovereign Way, Tonbridge Picture: Google
The incident happened outside Waitrose, in Sovereign Way, Tonbridge Picture: Google

No arrests were made after police were called to the "disturbance" shortly before 5pm. An officer apologised to Mr Langridge about the incident.

Cllr Mark Hood (Green), of, Tonbridge, accused the street warden of "behaving like a police officer" and called for an urgent review of the government-led scheme.

He said: "Covid marshals are not fulfilling their duties. They are meant to be advising on social distancing and making people aware of the guidance, but they seem to be overreaching their remit.

"I am not sure how long we are going to have them, but someone needs to get them to focus on what they should be doing, such as breaking up large groups of people."

The majority of Kent councils have been reluctant to hire marshals. Only seven marshals have been recruited, including four in Thanet and one in Ashford.

A Covid marshal has been removed with "immediate effect" after a stop and search in Tonbridge town centre
A Covid marshal has been removed with "immediate effect" after a stop and search in Tonbridge town centre

Last month, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council deployed two marshals in the borough's town centre and high streets for the first time, using £55,000 of funding from the government's Covid "local enforcement" grant.

Tonbridge council says it will be "strengthening the training" of marshals in future following the episode.

A spokesman for Tonbridge council said: "The presence of Covid marshals on our streets has been generally welcomed by residents who recognise their role in supporting our response to the growing threat posed by the pandemic.

"We therefore take any complaints about their conduct very seriously and in this instance agreed with the company which provides our marshals that the staff member concerned should be replaced with immediate effect.

"We will be working with the contractor to review and strengthen the training our marshals receive to ensure they are absolutely clear on the scope of their role which is to provide a reassuring presence and help keep people safe."

Kent Police confirmed the incident took place. A spokesman said: "We were called to Sovereign Way, Tonbridge at 4.50pm on December 10, 2020 following a report of a disturbance.

"Officers attended and after speaking to the involved parties no offences were identified."

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