Backdated from previous BA website
WCCs beggar ‘audit’ begins; About 300 beggars are thought to operating in Westminster. Any beggars spotted in London’s West End this weekend (Feb 28) will be reported by council staff as part of a crackdown. Police will then arrest the beggars and fingerprints and DNA will be taken.
Westminster Council, which says it has more beggars than any English city, described the operation as an “audit” to establish the scale of the problem.
But homelessness charity Crisis criticised the move saying it will “criminalise some of society’s most vulnerable homeless people”.
It is thought there are 10 times as many beggars in Westminster as in Manchester, many of them coming from outside London to target tourists.
Persistent beggars or those found near cash machines may be issued with anti-social behaviour orders if they are found guilty.
Shaks Ghosh, Crisis criticised the move saying it was “totally inappropriate”.
Shaks Ghosh, chief executive of Crisis, told BBC Radio 4 that arresting homeless people and taking their fingerprints and DNA would not work. “It’s expensive and it displaces the problem out of Westminster to other London boroughs.
“We want to see long-term solutions, not just people being churned through the criminal justice system.
“We are talking here about some of the most vulnerable people in society.”
But Westminster Council described it as a “comprehensive effort” to harass and deter aggressive beggars.
It said it was a response to surveys of visitors and residents who had complained of feeling threatened, and said social workers would be on hand help those arrested.
Westminster Council’s leader Simon Milton said: “It’s not a stunt. It’s essential to track the activities of beggars if we are to take effective measures [against them].
“The trouble we have had in the past with simply arresting people is that, because they weren’t being fingerprinted, they were simply released again and there was no disincentive to continue begging.”
An estimated 300 beggars operating in just a few square miles around areas including Soho, Covent Garden and Piccadilly, will be targeted.
Last Updated: Saturday, 28 February, 2004, 10:38 GMT