BEGGING gangs are “using modern day slaves” to target people for change in the city’s streets.

Across Brighton and Hove, traders and residents report that groups are being dropped off in vans before spending the day begging for money.

London Road, Boundary Road and North Street are just some of the streets that are thought to have been targeted.

Brighton Housing Trust (BHT) boss Andy Winter says those labelled as “professional beggars” are often working for “controllers” who are forcing them into begging and stealing.

He adds the gangs target vulnerable people across the country, normally drug addicts and those with mental health problems, keeping them in servitude through perceived debts.

Others involved with begging gangs, he says, are Eastern Europeans brought into the country on the promise of a job.


But he said they are forced, sometimes under threat to their families back home, to beg and steal on the city’s streets.

Some traders in the streets affected say the groups are an “everyday occurrence” and others claim they have seen them being dropped off in vans.

One trader said: “They come down pretty much every day when it’s nice, we see them having lunch together.

“The whole thing seems very planned, there’s an elderly lady and another who looks in her mid 20s.

“I will see them outside my business and then across the other side of the city.

“I feel very sorry for them.”

Another trader said: “Everyone in the street has noticed there’s a couple of youngsters who have been around for a while with their plastic cups.

“One of my customers has voiced concerns about it, she was worried the men were being trafficked.

“I don’t think it affects us trade-wise but it’s not nice for families with kids.

“Having said that, they are no hassle and they keep themselves to themselves.”

Traders told The Argus groups are being dropped off at different points in the city at certain times in the morning.

Charity boss Mr Winter has been working with the city’s homeless and rough sleeping communities since 1987.

He said his views on begging gangs are formed based on anecdotal evidence from his BHT colleagues.

He said: “Begging has very little to do with rough sleeping and more to do with addictions.

“Some of the people arriving in Brighton to beg are being preyed upon by more powerful individuals who are controlling them because of their vulnerabilities or drug addiction and are expected to raise money for their controllers.

“It can be a form of modern day slavery that people are expected to beg, shoplift and, on occasions, prostitute themselves for the financial gains of others.”

Mr Winter adds that gangs often employ violence or threats of violence to keep people in servitude.

He said: “People with mental health problems or drug addictions will be befriended and told to come to Brighton to make money through begging – with the promise of being looked after.

“There are also people who are non-British nationals, normally Eastern European, who speak little English and are very poor and very vulnerable.

“On occasion, with people from abroad, there’s threats against their family.

“They’re told ‘if you come to us, we can get you jobs and housing and you can send money back’.

“Then, when they come over, they’re told they owe the gangs thousands of pounds.”

Jim Deans, from Sussex Homeless Support, believes the gangs are a “massive issue” for the homeless community and the general pubic.

He said: “We’re well aware that it’s going on.

“We’ve been made aware they’re coming into the city in cars and then dropping people off with printed signs and such.

“The public are very keen to give money and the problem is that now they’re seeing the homeless as professional actors who have splashed water on their clothes and are pretending they need 25 quid for a room.

“If the public are giving money to these professionals, then it’s not making it through to the people on the street who need it.”

Inspector Nick Dias from Sussex Police has said anyone with suspicions about organised begging should contact the force.

He said: “While we are aware that there are so-called ‘professional’ beggars who target the city from time to time, it is important to recognise that there are far more who are extremely vulnerable.

“We rarely criminalise someone purely for begging and will try to use a host of other ways to deal with individuals.

“There are a large number of agencies working together in Brighton and Hove to support the homeless and street communities and to direct them to these agencies is always our initial approach.”

The police’s initiative, called Operation Doorway, helps signpost the vulnerable to support services.

Insp Dias added: “Our strategy, to work closely with partners to provide the best service possible for the street community and the city, will continue.

“We do use officers in plain clothes to engage with the street community on a regular basis and they always identify themselves as police officers.

“Our aim is to direct them to the services available to keep them safe.

“However, we will not tolerate abusive, threatening or violent behaviour and if anyone has suspicions about organised begging or someone who they feel is being exploited, we would urge them to contact us.”