The Tory leader of the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead has written a letter calling for Thames Valley Police (TVP) officers to remove beggars and rough sleepers ahead of the royal wedding.
Prince Harry and Meghan Markle are due to get married on Saturday, May 19 at St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.
But councillor Simon Dudley wants action to be taken against “aggressive begging and intimidation in Windsor” ahead of the royal ceremony.
In a letter to the force’s police and crime commissioner Anthony Stansfeld, Dudley writes: “As you will be aware from your officers, there is a growing concern amongst residents, businesses and visitors regarding the number of people occupying the streets of Windsor, who are begging during the day and in some cases taking occupancy throughout the night.”
Dudley points to the “the quantities of bags and detritus” that are being left on pavements, which he says can present a security risk.
The letter, which has been made public, continues: “Residents, businesses and visitors are consistently raising concerns regarding this situation.
“Our residents, businesses and visitors rightly assume that TVP will take immediate action, as this is a significant security concern, especially given the national importance of Windsor.
“Obviously, the level of tourist interest is set to multiply with the royal wedding in May 2018, and there are increased concerns from our residents about their safety.
“The whole situation also presents a beautiful town in a sadly unfavourable light. As leader of the royal borough this situation is totally unacceptable to me and my fellow councillors.”
Dudley claims that “a large number of adults that are begging in Windsor are not in fact homeless, and if they are homeless they are choosing to reject all support services to beg on the streets of Windsor”.
The letter adds: “In the case of homelessness amongst this group, it is therefore a voluntary choice. Recently, council officers secured emergency accommodation for every individual begging and rough sleeping in Windsor, through making contact with each one.
“A significant number of the adults chose not to turn up and use the accommodation that we had purchased for them, instead choosing to remain on the street begging.
“This is creating a concerning and hostile atmosphere for our residents and the seven million tourists who come to Windsor each year.”
Large crowds are expected to descend on Windsor ahead of the royal wedding later this year.
Windsor Castle, which has been the home of British monarchs for nearly 1,000 years, is one of the royal family’s main residences.
Last year, 1.36 million people visited Windsor Castle and Frogmore House, which adjoins the castle, in Berkshire.
Dudley, who represents the Maidenhead Riverside ward, included a list of initiatives the borough had invested in for vulnerable people, such as the establishment of an emergency night shelter.
The letter states: “In the Royal Borough we believe homelessness is completely unacceptable in a caring, compassionate community such as ours.”
But the council leader suggests in his letter that TVP could use its powers under the Vagrancy Act 1824 or the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
The Vagrancy Act makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg.
The letter is dated January 2. On December 29, Dudley said that he would be writing to Stansfeld asking TVP to “enforce the Vagrancy Act against organised begging” in Windsor.
In the tweet, he said that residents have “had enough of this exploitation”.
A letter will be going from me as leader of @RBWM to @StansfeldPCC asking that @ThamesVP enforce the Vagrancy Act against organised begging in #Windsor. Residents have had enough of this exploitation of residents and ~6 million tourists pa https://t.co/6fU5WBaBPi
December 29, 2017
TVP’s Windsor branch responded to Dudley’s comments on Twitter, saying that agencies should work together to tackle homelessness.
TVP Windsor also disputed a claim made by Dudley in an earlier tweet that tourists were being taken to cash points by rough sleepers in order to withdraw money.
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. (1/2)
December 27, 2017
It is time for you to deal with this issue. This is not voluntary homelessness. It is commercial life choice praying on residents and tourists. It’s been going on and getting worse for months. Enough is enough
December 27, 2017
In a statement sent to HuffPost UK, Stansfeld said that he was “somewhat surprised” that Dudley’s letter had been released publicly “but not yet been sent directly to me”.
The statement continued: “Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council are a key partner for Thames Valley Police and myself and I am always happy to listen to any concerns they may have and work together where possible.”
Stansfeld said that his office and TVP work closely with the local authority and that these issues were not raised when he attended a council meeting in October.
“I will of course provide Cllr Dudley with a full response addressing his concerns once I have received the letter and investigated the issues he has raised further,” the statement added.
He described supporting the vulnerable, including the homeless, as a “priority”.
“I have previously provided funding to homeless shelters in Berkshire. I also provide a Community Safety Fund to local authorities which allows them to fund any local priorities they may have to prevent crime and improve community safety and this year provided Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead Council with nearly £150,000.
“Protecting the public is of the utmost important to both myself and Thames Valley Police and the force work day in and day out to keep people safe from harm and make the Thames Valley a safe place to live, work and visit,” the statement concluded.
A report from Shelter, published in November, identified 307,000 people as being homeless in Britain - 4,447 of whom are sleeping rough.