A blitz on begging in Leeds is launched today – targeting a “hardcore” of schemers who con people out of cash with fictitious sob stories.
Council chiefs want to rid the streets of vagrants who illegally hassle people for cash and are urging the public to give to legitimate charities instead.
Police have vowed to seek anti-social behaviour orders against beggars who refuse to stop.
Law-enforcers say there is a regular group of supposed down-and-outs who use underhand tactics to dupe good Samaritans.
The worst offenders:
* have somewhere to live
* are on benefits
* falsely claim charities such as St George’s Crypt charge them up to £10 for meals
* use dogs to avoid arrest because they know it costs police a fortune to put the animals in kennels.
Most spend the cash on drink and drugs.
Chief Supt Paul Money, who is in charge of the City and Holbeck police division, told the YEP: “There is a hardcore of beggars – about 12 of them – who are not homeless. They have homes, they are on benefits.
“They come into the city centre with their pitbull terrier and their flat cap, encouraging people either passively or more aggressively to give them money.
“The idea they’re doing it because they can’t afford to eat is not true.”
Begging has been illegal since the Vagrancy Act of 1824.
In Leeds beggars take up positions on popular pedestrian routes during morning and evening rush hour as workers head into and out of the city centre.
At nights, especially at weekends, they target people who have been drinking and might be more inclined to put their hands in their pockets to make what they see at the time as a charitable donation.
As reported in the YEP last June, these beggars have been known to make hundreds of pounds a day.
Coun Peter Gruen, chairman of community safety partnership Safer Leeds, said: “Begging is a crime, and not one that will be tolerated in the city centre.
“It can cause distress to members of the public, and most of the beggars in Leeds are not sleeping rough.”
Police, who in one recent weekend collected evidence of 23 different examples of begging in the city centre, want to secure Anti Social Behavior Orders (Asbos) against the most persistent offenders. A test case currently being pursued through the courts against one beggar could pave the way for others to be hit with bans.
Speaking to the YEP, Sgt Andy Berriman, of the City Neighbourhood Policing Team, said: “It’s just a case of keeping a foot on the gas. If this case is a success we will hopefully be able to blitz the others.”
He added: “We’re not targeting vulnerable people. It’s a hardcore that have got houses and an income from benefits.
“They are littering the streets of Leeds and making tax-free cash.”