Police and environmental health officers visit face mask row cafe

The council has confirmed a police officer and an environmental health officer have visited a cafe in Plympton after concerns around coronavirus safety.

Finla Coffee boss Deanna Yates sparked mass debate after controversially revealing she had chosen to exempt herself from wearing a face covering, when from September 24 it has been compulsory for hospitality staff to do so.

Last week Deanna thanked many locals who championed her beliefs – contrary to the latest Government rules, which state people working in indoor hospitality, retail or leisure must cover up or risk a fine as the nation grapples with COVID-19.

And the council has now confirmed an environmental health officer visited the cafe along with a police officer to ‘reinforce’ the owner to ‘meet their legal obligations’.

They have confirmed they saw evidence of cleaning in the cafe by staff, as well as appropriate signs and QR codes in the venue.

But they say they have made suggestions to include more signs reminding customers to wear the correct face masks or coverings.

A council spokesperson said: “An environmental health officer and a police officer have visited the café to reinforce the need for the owner to meet their legal obligations.

“This follows calls to both the council and the police in relation to an article in PlymouthLive.

“We saw evidence of thorough cleaning in the café by staff, signage, codes on tables and provision for people to write their names and addresses if they didn’t have the tracing app. Customers and staff were wearing the correct masks.

Standing her ground - Deanna Yates of Finla Coffee in Plympton
Standing her ground – Deanna Yates of Finla Coffee in Plympton
(Image: Sarah Waddington)

“We have made some suggestions including more signs to make it clear customers need to wear face coverings when they are standing or moving around the shop.

“The café owner must speak to staff about the requirements to wear face coverings in the café.

“We set out our role and are requiring the café owner to comply with the law that came in on September 24 to help us tackle the virus.”

Deanna told PlymouthLive previously that the authority is more than welcome to drop by as her venue – regardless of her own personal views about masks, testing and the virus – is fully coronavirus compliant.

This comes after Labour leader and coronavirus local outbreak engagement board chair Tudor Evans said Deanna has stuck ‘two fingers up’ to the rest of the population – something she strenuously denied.

Asked what she thought of the council’s decision, Deanna said at the time: “Come and visit me. I still stand my ground in that I cannot enforce (people to wear face masks). The police won’t enforce them.

“Is it lawful for people to (make) people wear masks? People will argue. But I cannot force people to wear masks. I can remind people what the legal requirement is inside my shop.

“But I can’t go around and argue why they are not wearing masks or make people put a mask on.

“If you have a mask and you wear a mask, yes, put it on in my shop.

Face coverings for staff – the rules

From 24 September, it is compulsory in England for retail, leisure and hospitality staff to wear a face covering in areas that are open to the public and where they come, or are likely to come, within close contact of a member of the public. This includes shops, supermarkets, bars, pubs, restaurants, cafes, and the public areas of hotels and hostels.

Inappropriate use and handling of face coverings could present a risk to food safety and hygiene as well as to the health and safety of staff. The government has provided guidance on how to wear a face covering (Opens in a new window)and the hygiene requirements for safe and effective use, maintenance and disposal.

Where it is compulsory for your staff to wear face coverings in the workplace or where your staff choose to wear face coverings to travel to work, you should put procedures in place to enable your staff to follow this guidance.

For other indoor settings, employers should assess the use of face coverings on a case by case basis depending on the workplace environment, other appropriate mitigations they have put in place and whether reasonable exemptions apply.

“If they are exempt, they are exempt – no further questions.”

In a statement, Plymouth’s Director of Public Health, Dr Ruth Harrell, said last: “These measures and laws are not being brought in to just to irritate and inconvenience people. They are in place to prevent the spread of a virus which has so far killed more than 41,000 people in this country and a million people globally.

“We all want to protect our loved ones, and keep our economy going as much as possible, and wearing a face covering is a small price to pay. We know that there are very few people who really struggle to wear a face covering, but these exemptions are rare, and the vast majority of people can safely wear a face covering.

“The laws around COVID secure premises and behaviour are complicated and we have been working closely with businesses to adapt to rapidly changing rules, alongside the Police, so we appreciate there could be confusion.

“It is clear that this is not the case in this situation. So we will be visiting the cafe again to remind her about her legal responsibilities and will take enforcement action for breaches.”

Attempts have been made to contact Deanna about the latest visit by environmental health and Devon and Cornwall Police.

Plymouth Live