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Royal wedding: Windsor residents complain of police crackdown on rough sleepers

'They have had the sniffer dogs out today. They went through my stuff yesterday,' says one rough sleeper

Maya Oppenheim
,Helen Hoddinott
Wednesday 16 May 2018 21:22 BST
Royal wedding: Homeless people in Windsor say they are being subject to increased police surveillance in an attempt to sanitise the area

Windsor residents say police have cracked down on rough sleepers and stepped up surveillance measures in preparation for the upcoming royal wedding.

Police have taken away the possessions of people sleeping on the streets near Windsor Castle until Monday in a bid to step up security measures and avoid items being accidentally discarded during the chaos of the day.

While police said the arrangement for rough sleepers to hand over their items was optional, one homeless man voiced concerns his sleeping bag would be taken away without his permission.

“They keep moving our stuff to storage. If I’m not here then they will take it. I’ve got to go to probation at four o’clock, they will probably take it then,” Nick Thomas, a 27-year-old who has been homeless since the end of January, told The Independent.

“I would prefer them not to take my stuff because it includes my sleeping bag. All I’ve got is a sleeping bag and a couple of clothes. They don’t care.”

Mr Thomas, who has lived in Windsor all of his life, claimed his possessions had been searched while he was not there.

“They have had the sniffer dogs out today. They went through my stuff yesterday. They didn’t ask, they just did it when I wasn’t here. Maybe I was a bit angry that they can go through people’s stuff like that.

“They have been horrible to some of them. There is a girl who has mental problems and they are quite horrible to her quite a lot of the time. They keep arresting her, harassing her, and moving her on all the time.”

He said he had noticed an increased police presence in the historic market town where Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are due to marry this weekend.

Police on patrol outside Windsor Castle (EPA)

“There are police everywhere, more security, they have got the fences up as well,” he said. “The police are not being very nice but they are not being overly cruel either. They don’t want everyone to see the homeless problem. They are trying to keep it out of sight and out of mind.”

With plastic union jack bunting billowing in all directions and every other shop adorned with life-size cutouts of Prince Harry and his American actor fiancé, virtually every inch of the Berkshire town has been gripped by royal wedding fever.

But Mr Thomas remains not only unconvinced but distinctly alienated by the event which is expected to see 100,000 visitors descend on Saturday to celebrate.

“I don’t really care. It’s just a publicity stunt for them to make money and get more tourism,” he said.

Jaswinder Singh, who runs a local off-licence, was equally disheartened by police treatment of the homeless community in Windsor ahead of the royal wedding.

“The police are searching their bags. I don’t know why they are searching when they have got nothing. Some have even left their bag in here with me when they go out,” he told The Independent.

The 66-year-old shopkeeper, who has been there for 24 years and said he had never seen anything like this, said the streets had been sanitised in the buildup to the royal wedding and the homeless presence on the streets had been greatly reduced.

“The streets are very quiet. Not many beggars are there now - maybe two or three. I don’t know where the homeless people have gone. The police have chucked them - have taken them away somewhere but I don’t know where they have taken them,” he said.

“They take them away in the car but then they come back again. Some homeless people have said they won’t leave. You can read in their face that they are totally down and they are angry and afraid. They are upset because they can’t sit down or beg in the street.

“The police are not treating them well. They don’t want to let them on to the high street. It has 100 per cent changed since the royal wedding. There are less homeless people on the streets. They want to show the special people coming that Windsor is clean. They want the area to look posher.”

But Murphy James, project development manager at the Windsor Homeless Project, was less critical of the police response to the issue of homelessness.

“We have worked very hard to make sure that the best possible outcome can be given to every single person who is living on the streets of Windsor,” he told The Independent.

“Thames Valley Police have been absolutely fantastic. There are a lot of police who have come in from other areas who might not be as empathetic because they don’t know the people personally but I have seen no maltreatment of anybody.”

In a scheme organised by Mr James' organisation, homeless people have been told their belongings, including bedding, books and clothes, can be put in storage until Monday as part of heightened security measures.

A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: “A scheme has been set up for those who choose to store their belongings at the Windsor Homeless Project during the Royal Wedding, and our officers have been assisting with transport of belongings, however this is entirely voluntary to ensure the safety of the homeless community.

“We will continue to engage and work in partnership to support the communities of Windsor. The royal wedding is a national celebration and everyone is welcome, however everyone in Windsor on the day of the wedding will be subject to a search and screening. Anyone with large items that are deemed to be a security risk are likely to have those items removed.”

The controversy over police treatment of homeless people comes four months after council leader Simon Dudley gained national attention for demanding police use legal powers to clear rough sleepers off the streets ahead of the royal wedding.

The Conservative leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead wrote to Thames Valley Police to seek action against “aggressive begging and intimidation” and “bags and detritus” accumulating on the streets. “The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light,” he wrote.

Mr Dudley’s call was backed up by a series of tweets sent while on a skiing holiday in Wyoming in which he referred to “an epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy in Windsor” and said he wanted police to “focus on dealing with this before the #RoyalWedding”.

His comments were criticised by Theresa May, whose constituency lies inside the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM), and homeless charities. A petition opposing the letter and the proposal to clear the streets was signed by over 100,000 people.

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