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Thursday, 04 January 2018

PM slaps down council boss for suggesting homeless made 'commercial life choice'

Written by Harriet Line

The Prime Minister has said she disagrees with a Tory council leader who called on police to clear rough sleepers from Windsor before the royal wedding.

Simon Dudley said beggars could present the town in a "sadly unfavourable light" when Prince Harry marries American actress Meghan Markle in May.

He tweeted that some rough sleepers had made a "commercial life choice praying (sic) on residents and tourists".

In a letter to police, he complained about "aggressive begging and intimidation", and "bags and detritus" on the streets.

Asked about the remarks during a visit to a hospital in nearby Camberley, Theresa May said: "I don't agree with the comments that the leader of the council has made.

"I think it is important that councils work hard to ensure that they are providing accommodation for those people who are homeless, and where there are issues of people who are aggressively begging on the streets then it's important that councils work with the police to deal with that aggressive begging."

Mr Dudley's comments have been described as "sickening" by Murphy James, of Windsor Homeless Project, who said: "It's absolutely abhorrent that anybody has got these views in this day and age, especially a lead councillor of the borough."

He added: "I went out on Christmas Day and there were 12 people laid out on Windsor High Street. They were not there by choice."

Scores of TV crews from around the world are expected to join thousands of wellwishers in Windsor for the royal wedding on May 19.

Mr Dudley (pictured), leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead, tweeted that there was "an epidemic of rough sleeping and vagrancy" in the town and demanded police "focus on dealing with this before the #RoyalWedding".

Windsor Police tweeted in reply: "We need to protect the most vulnerable in society by working together but each agency must understand its own unique responsibilities.

"Housing is the responsibility of the council but it is better that agencies work together so people don't become homeless.

"We deal with reports of begging proportionately but we have not had reports of anyone being marched to cashpoints to take out money."

Mr Dudley wrote a letter to Police and Crime Commissioner for Thames Valley Police, Anthony Stansfeld, dated January 2, calling on officers to take action.

Mr Stansfeld said he was "somewhat surprised" that the letter was released publicly before being "sent directly to me".

"I myself attended a Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council in October and these issues were not raised," he added.

"I will of course provide Cllr Dudley with a full response addressing his concerns once I have received the letter and investigated further the issues he has raised."

Lord John Bird, founder of The Big Issue magazine, said: "Criminalising or otherwise temporarily removing homeless people in order to improve the image of a city is not the answer. Many of the entrenched rough sleepers to whom Mr Dudley refers suffer from mental health issues and addiction.

"These people should be moved off the streets, but via a long-term solution which tackles the root causes of their homelessness, not a short-term fix designed to impress the viewing public.

"The young royals have a fantastic track record in addressing this issue, so I've no doubt that Harry and Meghan will be equally concerned that this issue is tackled in a way that creates real, and sustainable change in the lives of homeless people."

One homeless woman in Windsor, who gave only her first name, Tracy, said the royal wedding had prompted the town to "pull its finger out of its arsehole".

The 49-year-old, who has spent more than three years on the streets, said: "The homelessness has not just arose in the last couple of months, homelessness has been going on for years, even in this town.

"But it's only because of this royal wedding that there's been all of a sudden this uproar over the homelessness and the disgrace on the Windsor streets.

"If everyone were to do their job properly there would not be this problem - it's taken for a wedding for them to pull their finger out their bum to sort things out."

Asked what she would say to Mr Dudley, Tracy told the Press Association: "Come spend some time out on the streets with us, get to know us people individually and then tell me where you find these aggressive beggars and these voluntary homeless people.

"He doesn't have a clue what he's talking about."

Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead councillor Jesse Grey said he agreed with Mr Dudley's remarks, and claimed the council had offered the town's homeless a place to stay.

"We can't force people, we would like them to accept it, because there's many issues - there's mental health issues, drug dependency, there could be depression, there could be just bad luck - and we have a provision to help them."

Speaking on the streets of Windsor where he had talked to homeless people, he said he had been tackling the issue for the past four years, and that Mr Dudley's suggestion to deal with rough sleepers before the royal wedding was meant as "an incentive, not a reason".

"We are helping them, it's the people that we know that are refusing that help because of their own agenda."

Another homeless man, sleeping in a bus shelter in the shadow of Windsor Castle, said he had been offered temporary accommodation in a "rat infested B&B" by the council but that was the "only time" he has been offered help.

But the 40-year-old, who gave his name as Stuart, said he hoped the spotlight brought by Mr Dudley's letter could help him to get off the streets.

He said Mr Grey had told him he had arranged for someone to come to him as soon as possible, and added: "Gets them off their feet so we might be able to get a bit of help."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA Wire.

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