Court ruling may lead to national ban on beggars

Click to follow
The Independent Online

A judge has banned a drug addict from begging in a move that may result in councils being empowered to banish beggars from the streets.

The judgment yesterday, made at Manchester County Court, stated that Leonard Hockey, 51, would face jail if he was caught begging on the city's streets.

Within hours of the judgment, at least one other council had said that it was considering using injunctions to eliminate begging.

However, the ruling prompted protests from homeless organisations, which condemned the legal move as "criminalising" those who were forced to live on the street.

The civil action was launched against Mr Hockey by Manchester City Council and Greater Manchester Police, after he was arrested 97 times for begging to fund his crack and heroin addiction.

Although begging is illegal, it does not carry a jail sentence, under the Vagrancy Act 1824. However, Judge Richard Holman told the court that Hockey's method of targeting carpark pay stations was relevant to the ruling.

"All the while, the beggar is there, at the pay machine, and it is very difficult to ignore him," he said. "There is also the worry as to what may happen if you decline to give the beggar any money since, unhappily, some beggars can be abusive or aggressive."

Imposing a two-year injunction, he said: "There is therefore a strong evidential basis for concluding nothing short of an injunction will be effective to restrain the defendant from continuing his begging."

Speaking after ruling, Ben Taylor, Mr Hockey's solicitor, said the landmark ruling would lead to a flood of further action against beggars elsewhere.

"This is not a blanket judgment but [it] will open the flood gates to other local authorities bringing injunctive proceedings against beggars," Mr Taylor said. Mr Hockey, from Manchester, who was given legal aid to challenge the council, was described as "very disappointed" and has been advised to take his case to the Court of Appeal.

Injunctions have previously been sought against beggars in Bristol and Nottingham, but this was the first time a case had been challenged.

The ruling was welcomed by Basil Curley, Manchester City Council's executive member for housing, who said it "sends the right message to people begging in the streets". He said: "We have very good mechanisms in the city to support people like Hockey who are begging."

Inspector Paul Thorpe, community beat inspector for Greater Manchester Police said: "There is no need to be a beggar or a drug addict on the streets of Manchester. Help is available."

The ruling was being examined by Simon Milton, the leader of Westminster Council, with a view to it being implemented in the capital.

However, Ben Jackson, director of external affairs for homeless charity Shelter, said that the approach was flawed. "One third of prisoners lose their accommodation while they serve their sentence, and one third of ex-offenders have no accommodation on release."