News/UK: Aggressive begging arrests double

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Subject: News/UK: Aggressive begging arrests double
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Wed Apr 12 2000 - 05:15:12 EDT


Aggressive begging arrests double
by Lucy Lawrence and John Sturgis
Evening Standard (London), March 9, 2000

Cases of aggressive begging by eastern European immigrants on the London
Underground have doubled in the past six to nine months.

Figures released today by British Transport Police show the number of women
arrested for harassing and pleading with commuters for money has shot up
>from 30 to at least 60 a month.

Police say the beggars are almost always women who drag their children
around the Underground for hours each day in a bid to gain public sympathy.

The beggars mostly live in hostels in west or east London. A significant
number of offences are committed in Ealing and Acton on the Piccadilly line
and also on the District line. Other beggars are known to commute into the
capital from as far away as Dover.

The women work in gangs controlled by their husbands or male relatives, who
loiter at Tube station entrances for them to hand over the cash. They can
make about 60 a day.

Chief Superintendent Steve Hotston, area commander for London Underground,
said: "We've seen a large increase over the last six months, going towards
nine months, where the numbers of people begging has probably doubled. Very
often these are in hostels in east and west London and so consequently we
realise that they are either asylum seekers or here on a short stay."

He added: "They know that commuters have got wise to them so they work
during office hours when regular travellers are at work. They work very
hard over the weekends and have a day off on Mondays."

Chief Supt Hotston said police were particularly concerned about the number
of women carrying tiny babies between carriages when the train is moving.
They can be charged with endangering safety which carries a sentence of up
to 10 years.

"It's lethal," he said. "We are very concerned about the amount of parents
doing this." He added a squad of 40 officers was tasked to clear these
people out of the Tube system in an on-going special operation. "This is a
social problem and we are working with other agencies to find a solution to
it."

Many of the beggars are repeat offenders, undeterred by the courts. Some
police officers privately believe the legal system should be far less
lenient with them.

Ann Widdecombe, Tory shadow home secretary, called for a greater use of
powers of detention to keep immigrants off the streets while they are
seeking asylum. She told Radio 4's Today programme: "It would act as a
deterrent to a large number of unfounded claims and solve the sort of
problems we are now talking about.

"I think the courts should start to make an example of people. I don't want
to be harsh if someone is simply sitting peacefully and begging, but if
people are begging aggressively then that is demanding money with menaces."

The latest figures come the same week that a London magistrate warned
beggars with babies they will be jailed if they carry on harassing the
public.
Melanie Orhant <<morhant@igc.org>>
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