A HOMELESS man arrested for begging for just ten pence has had his case thrown out of court after a judge said it was not “in the interests of justice”.
District Judge Teresa Szagun agreed with prosecutors who had initially brought the case but changed their position claiming that begging had become “particularly sensitive”.
Rough sleeper Ashley Hackett, 34, was arrested by PC Andrew Platt who was in plain clothes alongside off-duty officer Sergeant Richard Siggs who was not in uniform.
This was after he was spotted asking a passer-by for money in Western Road, Brighton.
Hackett denied the begging charges when he first appeared at Brighton Magistrates' Court last month and his case was sent for trial.
The Argus reported on the case at the time and revealed how Sussex Police were using plain clothed officers to target beggars and how around one homeless person was being arrested every week based on last year's figures.
More than 30,000 people have since signed a petition calling on the force to stop doing so with critics questioning the "pointless system" that costs the taxpayer thousands of pounds and sees beggars fined hundreds of pounds only to have to go back on the streets.
The force had defended its practise as part of its wider strategy for dealing with the street community. It said it tried to work with homeless people as partners but used police powers if they did not engage, adding that doing so could help people get drug addiction treatment where needed.
When Hackett appeared at Brighton Magistrates' Court to defend himself this week, the court heard how begging had become a "particularly sensitive" topic.
Jane Deakin for the Crown Prosecution Service said: “Begging has become particularly sensitive at the moment, in our view as he has pleaded guilty to refusing to submit to a drug test in custody, we would say it is not in the public interest so we will be presenting no evidence with respect of the begging case.
“I have spoken to Sgt Siggs who is in charge of liaising with homeless individuals and he is keen to see this individual receive the treatment he needs."
Ray Pape, defending Hackett, told the court: “He is homeless, addicted to class A drugs and severely unwell.
"He pleaded not guilty to begging because the offence says you've got to place yourself in that location to beg. He says he's homeless and that's where he lives.
“This case has attracted considerable media interest and debate in parliament."
Sgt Siggs said outside court:”The right result has been achieved as he's going to get the treatment he needs."
After Hackett's arrest, in custody at Hollingbury police station he refused to consent to a drug test – also a criminal offence.
He pleaded guilty to that on his first court appearance and on Wednesday was sentenced to comply with a community order. He must undertake rehabilitation activities up to a maximum of 15 days by August 1. He was also ordered to pay a £60 victim surcharge.
Sgt Richard Siggs was not in uniform as he was off duty.
PC Andrew Platt was in plain clothes. He is one of the officers in our dedicated street team who wears plain clothes.
Also read: The Argus Comment - Courts not the answer
POLICE DEFEND PLAIN CLOTHES METHODS
THE practice of plain-clothed police officers arresting people for begging turned into a controversy after revelations in The Argus.
There was a storm of reaction after we reported on February 8 how homeless man Ashley Hackett was arrested by officers when he asked for 10 pence in Western Road, Brighton.
Brighton Pavilion MP Caroline Lucas said: “Arresting desperate, vulnerable individuals does nothing to tackle the root causes of the problem.”
A spokesman from Brighton-based group Love Activists added: “These laws and their enforcement victimise vulnerable people who are already suffering the daily struggle of life on the streets.”
Sussex’s police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne defended the tactic.
She said: “It is a complex issue which I am pleased to see Sussex Police are addressing in the right way by working closely with other support agencies.
“It is only those individuals who refuse to accept help and will not engage with police and partner agencies that run the risk of being arrested for begging.”
However, after acknowledging that the use of plain-clothed officers to gather evidence against people begging was “of great interest to the public”, she said she would raise the issue with the chief constable and ask if there was a reason for using plain-clothed officers as a tactic to target beggars.
Deputy chief constable Olivia Pinkney then told Ms Bourne that begging laws were used to arrest the “small cohort” of people begging to fund drug and alcohol addictions but not engaging with addiction or other health services.
The force also said officers not in uniform gather more evidence against people begging as they are not likely to ask a uniformed officer for money.
Yesterday, police reiterated their reasons for officers being out of uniform.
A force spokeswoman said: “We find this is a better way of engaging with the street community and helps prevent potential harm coming to them.”