19th Oct, 2018

Police defend action as beggar numbers rise

BEGGARS continue to plague the streets of Leamington town centre but the problem is not being ignored say police chiefs.

It has become almost impossible to walk down the Parade without being accosted at least once for money – much to the frustration of Observer readers.

Earlier this year we reported claims by a charity chief in the town that Leamington was providing rich pickings for beggars who could make up to £200 a day.

While some beggars take up a permanent position and ask for hand-outs, others walk up and down harassing passers-by for cash.

Warwick District Council, Warwickshire Police, The Salvation Army, BID Leamington and the Royal Priors Shopping Centre have previously run ‘Killing with Kindness’ campaigns, urging people to give money to homeless charities rather than directly to those begging on the street. The campaign aimed to eliminate begging which chiefly fuels drug and alcohol addictions.

The police approach to tackling begging ranges from giving words of advice to obtaining court orders for persistent offenders, and as a last resort enforcement action.

A Warwickshire Police spokesman told The Observer: “Leamington town centre has had ‘begging’ as one the top three issues to be tackled for over four years and at the beginning of the year the number involved reached record levels, with complaints from the public being received on a daily basis, stating that they were being harassed in the town’s car parks for money or being intimidated into giving money at cash points.

“The individuals involved in begging fluctuate as a large number of transient persons come to Leamington in the hope of improving their fortune, as well as ‘locals’. This is combined with an increase in people sleeping rough in the town centre and other reports of crime where individuals associated with begging have been involved.

“It is important to remember, that not all people who are homeless beg and likewise not all people who beg are homeless.

“People who beg are part of a broader street homelessness problem and are amongst the most vulnerable people in our society. They often have some of the most complex needs for example substance misuse, difficulties with benefits and the lack of alternatives to street life. They suffer from both the causes and consequences of anti-social behaviour and as such a consistent multi agency approach is needed to tackle what is a genuine and significant problem. It is therefore not an issue that can simply be dealt with through the criminal justice system.

“The police work with other agencies and support services to try and address the needs of the individuals found or reported to be begging. The person is offered support with finding accommodation, help with drug and alcohol addictions and sign posted to the support services and charities that operate in Leamington.

“When you see a community police officer talking with someone begging, it is often these types of conversations they are having. However, if the reports of them begging increase and members of the public are being harassed and distressed by their activity then further action is taken and as it is an offence to beg the option of taking them to court is used.

Police stress prosecution is a last resort, but it remains one which has been used, with the aim of getting an offender

“to make choices they wouldn’t ordinarily take”.

The spokesman continued: “The campaign to deal with begging on the streets of Leamington saw nine people targeted for action. Of this group one has received a criminal behaviour order preventing him from begging in the town centre, one has been charged on two occasions and a third has received a community protection notice, warning him to stay away from the town centre car parks.

“All of this group have been offered advice and support from homeless outreach workers and drug addiction agencies, with two now actively engaged with them.

“It is ongoing work and one the police actively encourage the reporting of, to help guide partner agencies in their outreach work and the police deal with any harassment or distress that those begging cause members of the public.”

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