Criminal sanctions are "not the solution" to street drinking and begging problem in Norwich
PUBLISHED: 11:43 04 June 2018 | UPDATED: 12:06 04 June 2018
Police have said using criminal sanctions against the homeless community in Norwich are "not a solution" - and is just pushing the problem around the city.
Officers say they have “no other option” but to go through the courts in an attempt to get the most vulnerable in the city to engage with charities and support services, and off the street.
Intended as a carrot and stick, criminal behaviour orders (CBO) will ban people from certain behaviours, but also force them into engaging with housing or addiction support networks.
But fears have been raised they are unduly harsh, and lead to criminalising the homeless with potential prison sentences of up to five years.
The most recent CBO was issued last week to Matthew Morris, a street drinker regularly found at the Haymarket.
The 54-year-old had breached the conditions of a community protection notice (CPN) nine times, which prevented him from being drunk in public or going to the Haymarket.
Within two days of being issued the CBO, Morris had breached it by being found within his exclusion zone at Norwich Market.
He paid for the offence with a day served in custody.
“In an ideal world you should never get to a criminal behaviour order,” says Norwich East Safer Neighbourhood Team Sgt Mark Shepherd. “Policing should not be the solution but we won’t tolerate street drinking or begging.
“How many times do you put people before the courts for low level offences when his behaviour is having a detrimental effect in the whole area?”
In the last 12 months police in the city centre have given out 104 begging warnings and 35 community protection warnings or notices.
A total of 16 criminal behaviour orders are now live, with two more due to go before the court.
But Sgt Shepherd says without more support for housing, or drug and alcohol addiction, his officers are simply “moving the problem around”.
“Policing shouldn’t be the solution,” he said. “A lot of the stuff is beyond us - it is not as straightforward as someone sleeping rough. We can’t solve these issues alone. The city council has a responsibility to deal with the homeless issue and they should be able to house people. If you have a drug or alcohol issue you need support services to help you break that cycle.
“Unless you address the reason they are there in the first place through support service you are not going to solve it. We have no other option but to go to that level if people aren’t abiding by their notices.”
He added: “You will never solve the issue of the Haymarket by just moving the problem elsewhere. It just displaces the street drinkers.
“We have started to have reports coming in from St Gregory’s Green, where they are waiting for the ARC to open. That is in part with community protection notices and CBOs allowing them to go there.
“There are new people coming into Norwich we engage with all the time. They need to understand what is acceptable.”
Sgt Shepherd cited an area off Old Post Office Court in the city centre where he finds used needles, human faeces and layers of congealed rubbish and cardboard boxes.
Last month similar detritus was exposed in a tent left abandoned on Brigg Street - the remnants of two months of rough sleeping.
There are hopes a new partnership project - Pathways - will help reduce the need for CBOs by providing high visibility outreach teams to engage with the homeless and bring them into support services.
Councillor Kevin Maguire, Norwich City Council’s cabinet member with responsibility for rough sleeping said: “Like many city centres, Norwich is facing increased levels of rough sleeping and, at times, anti-social behaviour due to drug and alcohol misuse, which is partly a result of the reduction in public services and the impact of welfare reform.
“The council is tackling rough sleeping in partnership with a range of organisations. This includes working closely with the police to address issues associated with rough sleeping and encouraging individuals to engage with the support available to them.
“As part of our strategy to reduce and, wherever possible, prevent homelessness, we have awarded funding to eight specialist charities to enable them to collaborate to provide intensive, tailored support for those most in need.”
Criminal behaviour orders in Norwich
Criminal behaviour orders that have been issued to the homeless in Norwich are often breached.
They usually result in a fine or some time in custody.
Matthew Morris, 54, of no fixed abode, was issued with a criminal behaviour order on May 24. It bans him from visiting the Haymarket except for access to the soup kitchen between 7.30pm and 9pm each day.
He also must not be drunk or found with an open container of alcohol within the inner ring road, must not act in “a way that causes nuisance, annoyance, distress or alarm,” and must engage with St Martin’s Housing within two months.
Andrew Francis, 37, of no fixed address, was given an eight week prison sentence, suspended for a year, at Norwich Magistrates Court on March 24 2017 when he admitted consuming butane gas which put him in breach of a criminal behaviour order.
That breach, on March 23, came just one day after he had been released from a six week prison sentence for breaching the order, which was first issued to him in July last year.
Lizzie Smith, of no fixed abode, was handed a criminal behaviour order in December 2016, banning her from entering the city centre for three years.
It followed a court case against her for “persistently begging in a public place”.
But in May 2017, Smith appeared in a report put together by BBC Look East, on Castle Meadow’s Kindakafe, putting her in breach of the order.
The courts will not always grant applications for a community behaviour order, as it has been argued they are unduly harsh.
On May 15 26-year-old Joseph Newton was brought before Norwich Magistrates Court where he admitted begging in a public place.
But after magistrates heard no evidence of Newton being aggressive or harassing, they refused to issue a criminal behaviour order asked for by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Dave Foulkes, mitigating for Newton, said he feared prosecutors were trying to “up the ante” by dangling the prosect of prison over him.
“My concern is we are turning a non-imprisonable offence [of begging] into an imprisonable offence,” he said.
“I thought the courts frowned upon doing that.”