Cries of ‘shame’ as powers to prohibit begging approved

Scores of campaigners protested on the steps of the town hall on Tuesday against new powers to crack down on begging, street drinking and overnight camping.

Cries of ‘shame’ filled the council chamber at Worthing Town Hall as councillors voted through the ‘Public Spaces Protection Orders’ (PSPOs).

Protestors gathered on the steps of Worthing Town Hall against the imposition of Public Spaces Protection Orders SUS-160420-091637001

Protestors gathered on the steps of Worthing Town Hall against the imposition of Public Spaces Protection Orders SUS-160420-091637001

The powers were opposed by the Liberal Democrats, Green councillor James Doyle and UKIP’s Susan Jelliss, while 13,500 signed a petition against them.

Critics claimed the proposals would criminalise the homeless and vulnerable but supporters stressed they would target persistent offenders who did not accept support.

Councillor Paul Yallop said: “It is not victimising the homeless. It is a handful of people that need to have a reason to act responsibility and not spoil our town for the other 107,000 of us.”

Most of the debate at the Worthing Borough Council full council meeting focused on the PSPO prohibiting begging. Lib Dem leader Keith Sunderland, who felt it would ‘pick on the poor and the vulnerable’, was defeated in a proposal to water down the wording of the order to target only ‘aggressive and persistent’ beggars.

Fellow Lib Dem Bob Smytherman asked what message the ‘appalling’ policy sent to people around the world.

An emotional Mr Doyle said: “If this happens I will not be proud. I will be shamed and we will be shamed and Worthing will be shamed.”

Conservative councillors pointed to a newly-drafted enforcement protocol, which would involve a three-stage warning system before a fixed penalty notice for disobeying the orders was put in place.

At the first stage, a warning would be given and appropriate services signposted.

Leader Dan Humphreys earlier pointed to the council’s award-winning work on tackling homelessness.

On the issue of overnight camping, councillor Tom Wye welcomed the proposals, which would apply to certain places like Heene Cemetery, Goring Greensward and Steyne Gardens.

He said volunteers regularly cleared the cemetery after people camping had defecated on graves and discarded beer cans and needles.

He claimed those responsible had refused help from agencies like Worthing Churches Homeless Projects.

A proposal to refer the issue to the council’s scrutiny committee before implementation was rejected but a quarterly, multi-agency review will be carried out afterwards. The committee will then consider its progress.

The meeting was heated, with the mayor threatening to eject the packed public gallery after several outbursts.

Speaking after the meeting, Dan Thompson, spokesman for Worthing People’s Assembly, said the orders were a ‘form of pest control’ and would fast-track people into the criminal justice system.

He said: “If you are fast-tracking these people into the criminal justice system, what does it mean for their futures? You are stealing their futures away from them and it is an absolute disgrace.”

A statement from the council read: “The council was clear that the PSPOs were proposed as part of a wider programme to tackle antisocial behaviour, which balances prevention and early help with enforcement. Enforcement is only carried out where necessary and is focused on behaviour and not groups of individuals.

“We are aware of the community concerns about PSPO two on begging and want to reiterate that this is designed to address aggressive begging, which means begging carried out with evidence of aggressive, violent and intimidating behaviour.

“Appropriate controls and monitoring will be contained within an enforcement protocol, which is being developed to ensure the PSPOs are not issued inappropriately or used against those that are more vulnerable and needing support.”

Click here to read the Herald’s two part special report on the issue.