Boris Johnson was not the only high-profile public servant in hot water over breaches of coronavirus restrictions this week, as the Jewish head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission continued to face awkward questions over her own lockdown foray.
Rebecca Hilsenrath had already apologised for travelling to her second home in Wales over Christmas, despite the country having been placed under a strict lockdown two weeks earlier, but was this week facing further questions over it.
A senior government lawyer, Hilsenrath said she had not known that Wales was closed to visitors when she travelled more than 220 miles from Elstree, and that she headed straight back to the south-east once it was brought to her attention. However, it came to light this week that Welsh police officers in fact had to ask her to leave not once, but twice.
Several sources have confirmed that officers from North Wales Police visited Hilsenrath and her husband at their holiday home in the village of Llanegryn on 22 December, then again on 24 December. She finally left on 25 December.
Hilsenrath, 55, who co-founded Yavneh College in Borehamwood and Hertsmere Jewish Primary School in Radlett, said she was unaware that on 4 December the Welsh government had said: “Travel into Wales is not allowed without a reasonable excuse, for example travelling for work purposes.
“Visiting family and friends (other than as part of an extended household) or having a holiday is not currently considered a reasonable excuse.”
After an initial report in the Borehamwood Times, which only referenced one police visit, 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 [holiday] home in Wales before lockdown in the belief it was allowed under the rules.
“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.”
However, Llangelynnin Councillor Louise Hughes, who lives a stone’s throw from Hilsenrath’s holiday pad, said the EHRC boss was “being economical with the truth”, confirming the two visits.
Jewish News has since had this verified, and has asked Hilsenrath how officers visiting twice in three days corroborates her statement that she agreed to leave “at once” and “without further reminders”.
She declined to respond, but the EHRC did confirm that there were two police visits.
“Her apology is an insult,” said Hughes. “We’re a tiny community, very remote and miles from any medical facilities whatsoever, so it was irksome to say the least to see her drive from Hertfordshire when we’re all trying to stick to the rules.
“My daughter recently had two transplants and I’ve yet to see her because the rules don’t allow it. We’re all trying to do our bit, so her visit has really upset and angered a lot of people. Worse still, it now seems like she’s going to get away with it.
“She’s a senior government lawyer. To say she didn’t know is piffle and shows a worrying lack of integrity. Everyone here is very stressed with the situation. To see her here, out and about, shows a complete disrespect for the village. She should be ashamed of herself. She totally ignored the rules and now she’s trying to wriggle out of it.”
EHRC chair Baroness Kishwer Falkner is to consider disciplinary proceedings, promising to “establish all the facts before deciding if any further action is required,” but notably remarked on how Hilsenrath had already apologised.
North Wales Police said it “does not comment on individual cases” but confirmed that officers attended an address in Llanegryn where the occupants were “given suitable advice”. They added: “It appears they have now left the property.”
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