Churches to seek ban on beggar

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The Independent Online
JOHN McKIE

Two churches are today taking High Court action to ban a beggar from visiting the premises, except for religious services.

St Mary's Church in Saffron Walden, Essex, alleges that beggar Michael Walker has stolen from its collection boxes, charged visitors for admission, verbally abused other visitors, opened envelopes and urinated in the church grounds over a ten-year period.

The 15th-century hill-top church and Stansted Church - the church nearest Mr Walker's home - are seeking an injunction stopping him entering the premises of the churches "except during the times of divine services".

The warden of St Mary's, Lawrence Gooderham, said yesterday: "You can't turn the other cheek forever and it's having a terrible effect on people coming to the church.

"St Mary's is one of the major tourist attractions of the area and everyone visiting Saffron Walden wants to see it.

"He tries to steal the church guidebooks and sell them to tourists. A lot of people find him frightening.

"We haven't got a full-time staff, only a welcoming rota. When he sees a gap in the rota and there's no one at the church entrance, then he goes in. He's very clever.

"Members of the clergy have spent a lot of time trying to get through to him but he's not the sort of person with whom you can have a logical conversation. The form of his language isn't such that you could print it."

Essex County Council has already gained an injunction banning him from all libraries in the county and he now lives in a council house in Stansted, having been driven out of Saffron Walden by angry residents and councillors.

Mr Gooderham added: "Saffron Walden is his great love and he still manages to hitch-hike his way into the area.

"He is able to claim benefit, he just takes money from visitors to supplement his income."

A spokeswoman for Uttlesford council, which was behind his ban from Essex libraries, said: "He only leaves the library after the police have been called. It's very difficult."

This will not be Mr Walker's first visit to court. He represented himself against the council and is expected to present his own defence today.

He was not available for comment yesterday.

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