Petition started after beggars targeted in police crackdown

Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A petition has been launched after a crackdown on begging saw 17 people arrested in the city, with one man being jailed.

Police in Norwich stepped up patrols in October to target those found to be persistently begging following a number of complaints from businesses and members of the public.

But after Charlie Jennings, who was one of those arrested as part of the begging blitz, started a nine-week jail sentence last week, people hit out at the police's action.

One of those was Lily Watts, who met Mr Jennings when she was living at the YMCA in Norwich six or seven years ago - and she started a petition called Free the Norfolk 17.

Ms Watts, 29, said: 'I know a couple of the boys who were arrested. Once working as tree surgeon Charlie has now ended up on the streets having to ask for money from people after having his benefits cut.

'I feel homeless should be not be looked at as a 'make an example' and fine them type situation. I am seriously concerned that the Norfolk Police think that criminalising these people rather than helping them is going to sort them out in the long run.

'Surely the public money they are using to go through court cases and arrest these people would better be spent putting them in touch with the correct outreach groups for rehousing or sorting out their current situations.'

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Ms Watts, who grew up in Wymondham, said although her petition - which has reached nearly 1,000 signatures - focused on Mr Jennings, she was concerned with the wider consequences.

Mr Jennings' arrest came after Chief Insp Nick Paling said few people begging in Norwich were actually homeless, while some were on benefits.

He said people could earn up to £150 a day or night begging in the city and the cash was being spent on drugs and alcohol.

'I hope bringing some awareness to this issue will help find a solution which is less detrimental to the people needing help,' Ms Watts added.

A police spokesperson said: 'It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the sentencing of Jennings as this is a matter for the courts.

'We are aware there have been some concerns from members of the public that we are targeting vulnerable people; however, there is a distinct difference between homelessness and begging. We are specifically targeting those who come into the city to take part in aggressive begging as an income following complaints from businesses and members of the public.

'This is not a clear cut issue but we know from our enquiries that a majority of those who are begging and portray themselves as homeless do in fact have accommodation. Where we do identify a vulnerable person we sign post them to the relevant charities to ensure they get the help and support they need.

'People should be able to come and enjoy what the city has to offer without being made to feel uncomfortable or guilty for not putting their hand in their pocket. We encourage those who do want to help to give to those charities in the city which will ensure their donations go to those most in need.'

• To see the petition, visit bit.ly/2fCL8HP

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