Teignbridge Council bans rough sleeping and swearing

Teignbridge Council’s executive committee has passed a new PSPO, targeting the seaside town of Dawlish. The PSPO bans a wide range of activities including: sleeping after the hours of darkness, shouting or swearing, and the consumption of legal highs and alcohol.

The council claims there have been some crimes in the area (including criminal damage and drug use), but there are already laws against these. The main complaint seems to be that a group of street drinkers are hanging out and messing up a pretty seaside town. The council was keen to have the order in place by the summer: ‘Failure to have this order in place would potentially impact on the visitor experience.’

The council’s anti-social behaviour officer says that the problem is that police can only intervene when crimes are committed: ‘Local policing teams have limited powers. They have no power to seize alcohol (unless that person is under the age of 18) and can only react when something actually takes place.’ Therefore, he recommends that he and his community safety manager be authorised to issue fines for this broad range of bogus offences.

This could mean homeless people being fined for sleeping in public, or others for shouting or swearing. Basically the council seems to want to clear ‘the group’ out of the town, and so has extended the PSPO to include areas that they may move to from their current location: ‘There are plenty of other locations on the Lawns and seafront where this group could migrate to. There are other shelters, the bandstand and numerous benches that would make ideal alternative meeting places. The act allows for this wider area as it is likely that activities will be carried out within that area.’

Such broad criminal offences are in danger of criminalising a group of people, merely because they impact upon the visitor experience. This is not sufficient justification for the intervention of the criminal law. Of course, if these individuals commit offences then they should be held account for their actions, but if they are not harming anyone then they should be left in peace. This is a public space and members of the public – homeless or not – should have as much right to use the space as any other.

Giving them fines and criminal offences for actions such as swearing or sleeping in public is a biased injustice – targeting certain people because they look messy – and makes a mockery out of the criminal law.

If you would like to email the council they can be contacted at Jeremy.Christophers@teignbridge.gov.uk and george.gribble@teignbridge.gov.uk