A FORMER police chief has said it is ‘no surprise’ several officers are having to self-isolate after a colleague tested positive for the coronavirus – urging people not to publicly criticise the force without knowing the full facts.

Bob Eastwood spoke out after it emerged 22 officers at Greenbank station in Blackburn were forced into self-isolation after nine of them attended an in-house retirement gathering.

In a statement released by Lancashire Constabulary, a spokesman confirmed that one officer tested positive for Covid-19 after being tested on July 21. After that, contact tracing was put in place which resulted in more officers having to self-isolate.

The officer who tested positive had been at the retirement gathering alongside eight other colleagues who came into contact with others while working.

ACC Peter Lawson ensured the public that that staffing levels continued to be met, confirming there will be no effect on operational policing across East Lancashire despite the enforced lay-offs.

Now Mr Eastwood, a retired chief superintendent who was in charge of Lancashire Police’s Eastern Division, said he was surprised something like this had not happened sooner given the close contact officers are having with the public while working on the frontline during the pandemic.

He said: “From what I’ve heard, the real version of events here was very uneventful. The officers were working a night shift in Blackburn together and had a pizza to wave their long-standing colleague off. I am told they were socially distancing, which was the right thing to do.

“One of them then contracted Covid-19, not unsurprisingly given the job that they do. I am amazed this has not happened before but then again, we really do not know a massive amount about this virus, do we? They also work in Blackburn, a place with a massive community spirit and unfortunately one of the UK Covid-19 hotspots.

“The Asian heritage community is also on the receiving end of this blame game. I have seen some dreadful comments attributed to this community also. The blame game needs to stop, it is both counter-productive and dangerous.

“We have seen it in other very well-known contexts, people will stop reporting if they feel they are going to be blamed.

“We need to get behind our police, those who run towards danger not away from it, those who actually work hard to protect us. They need our support, encouragement, and loyalty now more than ever.”

A spokesperson for the police said: “We can confirm some police officers based in Blackburn are self-isolating after a colleague tested positive for Covid-19.

“An officer developed symptoms and was tested on July 21.

“Immediately after we were notified of the positive result, rigorous contact tracing was put into place which has resulted in a number of officers self-isolating. These staff will progressively return to work depending on when the contact with the affected officer took place.”

Mr Lawson said: “As soon as we were notified by an officer that they had tested positive for Covid-19 we immediately started tracing their contacts and requiring them to self-isolate.

“I can reassure people that we continue to meet all our minimum staffing levels and there will be no effect on operational policing in the county.”