Council arrests homeless beggars

A zero tolerance campaign against begging began in London's West End with the arrest of 15 rough sleepers who were later finger-printed and DNA tested, Westminster Council said yesterday.

The 48-hour clampdown, which has been condemned by homeless charity Crisis for "criminalising" rough sleepers, began on Friday. Council staff, including roadsweepers and traffic wardens, were briefed to report beggars who would then be arrested by police.

Westminster Council said Operation Loose-Change was designed to tackle a "hard-core group of repeat offenders" and the aim was to "support them and encourage them to change".

But a spokesman for Crisis said: "The overall impact will be to criminalise some of society's most vulnerable homeless people by fingerprinting them, taking DNA and saddling them with a criminal record. All this will create is a series of additional barriers for people wanting to escape homelessness for good."

Kit Malthouse, the deputy leader of Westminster Council, said: "We managed to arrest 15 people ... It seems to be going pretty well." The project's manager, Philip Gough, added: "They are choosing to beg, they're putting themselves in this position. We're trying to support them and encourage them to change."

Beggars continually found in the area may be issued with anti-social behaviour orders after they are convicted. Social workers will be on hand to advise homeless people during the crackdown.