This Monday morning saw the installation of ‘beggar traps’ outside Oxford City Council offices. These boxes big enough for a human, have metal grills propped open with sticks, string is attached to the stick ready to pull away the support and shut the trap. Inside is a cup of tea to lure beggars. Two young women walk past with their children and loudly proclaim,
“That is disgusting.”
“That is outrageous,” says the other, “they shouldn’t be doing that!”
As it turned out they were the first of quite a few who believed the traps to be real, with passers-by tutting,
“Haven’t they got better things to do!” and
That so many thought the traps real either speaks volumes of human credulity or council belligerence, quite possibly both.
The traps were made by local artist Lois Muddiman – with whom I concocted the idea after a show – and were made to highlight Oxford City Council’s plans to entrap beggars. Here is how they will do it:
The council intends to vote through a Public Space Protection Order this Thursday (15th Oct) which will make “aggressive begging” – by which they mean begging near a cash point machine – in the designated area of the city centre an offence liable to a fine, a Fixed Penalty Notice, of £100.
When I posted about this last week Oxford City Council went on the offensive.
Writing on the Change.Org website in response the council claimed, “The redrafted PSPO now only targets those begging aggressively, such as those begging next to cash points, and categorically will not require them to pay a fine.”
Oxford City Council claimed instead they would be helping beggars access services by sending them to a Magistrates Court – making them automatically liable for the mandatory court charge of £150 if they plead guilty (much more if they are foolish enough to plead not guilty). And of course a likely additional fine and a criminal record. Not exactly the help most beggars need.
“We will not be fining homeless people.” The council tweeted at me. “We want to use PSPO to take aggressive beggars to court to require them to get help they need, ie rehab”
When I had the audacity to claim they were being disingenuous the council fired off another missive,
“we will not be fining beggars. Please change your website to reflect this.”
After taking legal advice, they were today forced into admitting the truth:
Chief Exec Peter Sloman wrote, “I understand that a Council posting on Change.org last week stated the Council would not impose a Fixed Penalty Notice for aggressively begging. That is not correct.”
He lists what the council could do: “Report the offense to the police; Issue a fixed penalty notice; Prosecute in the Magistrates Court,” and notes that “Court does charge a court fee and could decide to issue a fine.”
So exactly as I had described. The Council is voting to give itself the powers to issue on the spot fines to people begging or take them to court where more punitive charges and costs will be levied at them and thus entrap beggars in debt and the criminal justice system.
“I am sorry if our statement…was misleading” Sloman went on. On Saturday I asked Oxford City Council whether they were being incompetent or disingenuous. Today’s events suggest they are both.