An investigation by the Guardian has found that over 50 councils have introduced PSPOs targeting the homeless, and have issued hundreds of fines and prosecutions. These included a man imprisoned in Gloucester for begging, and another man fined when a child dropped a two-pound coin on his sleeping bag.
The quotes from homeless people in Kettering are particularly striking, as they described how the PSPO had made their lives increasingly difficult, with fines for sleeping in doorways and the threat of prison for begging. (Kettering Council bragged about how many people it had taken to court for breaching the PSPO, who received fines of up to 1000 pounds.)
“It adds to all the stress and makes it harder to be homeless … it makes you feel like you are not welcome, like you are being pushed out.”
“All the stress from that forces you to do silly things … I just want to be treated as a person.”
“You have to sleep anywhere that is out of sight of cameras – otherwise you will be arrested for trying to get your head down.”
In other news:
Newport Council is planning to ban people from begging within 10m of a cash machine. The council already has a ban on ‘aggressive’ begging, but apparently this is proving too difficult to enforce (which means, in fact, that they have not observed anyone begging ‘aggressively’). So instead, council leaders have decided that begging within 10m of a cash machine could be seen as ‘harassing’ or ‘alarming’ to the public. Yet it looks as if there is plenty of dissent within the council, with other councillors describing the measure as ‘pointless’ and a ‘blunt instrument’. The decision will be made in full council at a later date.
A Wakefield street drinker has been jailed for a second time, for breaching a Criminal Behaviour Order, issued after he violated a PSPO. The CBO prohibited him from entering large parts of the city centre, and from possessing an open container of alcohol in a public space. (He was permitted to enter the city centre only ‘for pre-arranged appointments or when travelling through as a passenger in a taxi or on public transport’). Now, it may be that this gentleman had been responsible for drunk and disorderly behaviour, and yet he was not prosecuted or convicted of this offence (which would have required proof that his behaviour met the standards for an actual harmful offence). Instead, his latest imprisonment was for ‘being found in the Sun Lane area which he was prohibited from entering’. That’s right: a man has been imprisoned for being found in a public space. This shows how our criminal law has become utterly detached from any sensible definition of crime and any just use of the state’s coercive powers.
A 54-year old man from Coventry has been convicted of sleeping in public and begging, and fined 100 pounds. Apparently, ‘his offences including begging in streets such as Market Way, Broadgate, Spon Street and High Street, sleeping in Hertford Street and entering Sainsbury’s’. He was one of 28 beggars fined under the city centre PSPO, which sought to crack down on charity ‘chuggers’, beggars, buskers, skateboards and cyclists. This PSPO amounts to little more than an attack on those whom the council considers to be unsavoury – which undermines public liberties, while doing nothing to tackle genuine social problems.
A man in Clacton was found guilty of breaching a PSPO. The PSPO was designed to tackle alcohol-related ASB, yet there is no mention of the man in question committing ASB. Instead, he was seen with a group of others drinking alcohol; when dispersed by police officers, he ‘disputed the legislation’ on which the dispersal was based. When the officers returned, he was found again drinking at the spot, and refused to hand over his alcohol. Here, the man in question was found guilty, but he was only defending his rights under the true law of the land, which holds that people should only be interfered with if their actions are causing harm to others. He objected to having his movement restricted and his property confiscated when he had not committed an offence. It is the police, and not he, who are the outlaws here.
Opposition continues in Poole to the city’s ban on begging, with over 27,000 people signing a petition that criticises the ‘Dickensian and heartless Public Space Protection Order’. This shows that PSPOs – supposedly brought through for the public – are often incredibly unpopular when subjected to public discussion and criticism. The instincts of the majority are far more compassionate, and humane, than that of officials acting in their name.