Homeless Anthony Delaney was locked up this week after making Gatwick airport his home for four years. The trained chef ate, showered and slept at the South Terminal, only leaving occasionally to pick up his jobseeker's allowance. Armed with a budget of only £5, reporter SIMON BARRETT set off to see if he could survive 24 hours at the airport.

As the gleaming pound coin stared back at me from the fruit machine tray, I stifled a shout of sheer joy.

To a man who had earlier hungrily scoffed cold chips from a stranger's leftover plate, the coin was like finding an oasis in a barren desert.

Ever since I was young, I have always enjoyed the atmosphere of a busy airport.

They represent either the excitement of jetting off to warmer climes or the last step in the journey home after a holiday.

So the thought of spending 24 hours at Gatwick held little fear for me, especially after some of the flight delays endured over the years.

Yet this time I was alone and limited to just £5 in my pocket. With food prices at most airports sky-high, I knew it could prove tricky.

I arrived at the South Terminal at about 10am and took up a seat in one of the waiting areas. Instead of relaxing or hitting the arcades, I was alert to anything that would help me keep costs down and survive the night in as much comfort as possible.

Within minutes, an elderly couple sitting opposite me picked up their suitcases and walked off, leaving a half-full bottle of mineral water on the bench.

I grabbed it, ignoring any strange looks, and the bottle stayed with me for the rest of the my time in the terminal - after several refills from the taps in the toilets.

For the first few hours, the best bit of entertainment I had came from a pigeon who had made his way into the terminal and was terrorising shoppers.

Then a young South African couple who were sat near me began to re-pack their suitcases, worried they were too heavy for Ryanair's baggage weight restrictions.

One of the items deemed unnecessary was a tatty Clive Cussler novel, which they had both read and was offered to me. I'd been watching them discard the items with interest and must have said yes before they even finished the question.

Starting to get hungry, I soon identified the Village Inn pub as the best possible source of securing some free food.

After buying myself a glass of soda water and lime, I took up a strategic position at an elevated table at the back of the pub.

Next to me I noted a bookshelf containing dozens of novels - another potential goldmine in my attempts to beat the boredom.

Suddenly, instead of paying little attention to surrounding diners, every plate of food and half finished drink became a viable target.

I soon found myself trying to predict which customers would leave enough food to make the shame of picking at the leftovers bearable.

Soon enough a pair of young men in suits at an adjacent table leapt up to catch their flight, leaving the best part of two pints of lager behind.

So I had secured myself alcohol before food - at least I had my priorities right.

A pair of middle-aged women then left the majority of a plate of chips. They were cold but beggars can't be choosers, I mumbled to myself.

By the time I finished the lager I had also eaten a burger bun - minus the burger - and part of a salad including several croutons which the previous owner obviously did not appreciate. More fool them, I thought as I triumphantly munched my way through the crunchy treats.

Several opportunist walks around the arcades in the terminal finally paid dividends when I found a pound coin sitting in one of the fruit machine pay-out trays.

It was a small victory but I celebrated with a packet of crisps and a chocolate bar, washed down with half a bottle of cola I had found sitting on a table in Burger King.

With a bit more spare cash, I could also have checked my emails in one of the internet cafés or had a shower with soap and a towel for £1.

A few hours later and with the boredom kicking in, I decided to spend my remaining cash on another soda and lime and a jacket potato from the Village Inn.

After I had eaten, and to my barely concealed glee, the barman switched television channels to show a Champions League football match.

But as I began to think of airport living as an easy life, I was brought back down to earth with a crash landing.

With the pub and the majority of the shops and cafés all shut, dozens of holidaymakers jostled for the best places to bed down for a few hours.

One of them, a student called Mary, had missed her coach back to Oxford and was stranded until the morning.

After she had kindly bought me a cup of tea when I explained I had no money, I chose an uncomfortable looking bench as my bed for the night.

The wooden bench came complete with rigid steel armrests, as if they w e r e designed to ensure m a x i - mum discomfort to potential snoozers.

Wrapped in my hooded jacket and using my towel as a blanket, I lay for a few restless hours before trying the floor and eventually returning to the bench.

All the while armed police officers were patrolling the terminal, making me feel both secure and uneasy all at the same time.

A couple of hours of broken sleep were brought to an end by what seemed a particularly loud public announcement and, after a wash in the toilet sinks, all that was left was to sit tight until I reached the 24 hour mark.

When I first heard the story of Anthony Delaney, I was not overly surprised. An airport seemed to me a logical place to go if the alternative is to stay out on the freezing cold streets.

It is comparatively warm, dry and safe. And it is pretty easy to blend in among the thousands of holidaymakers who pass through the terminal each day.

That said, spending a full day and night on my own in an airport was more than enough.

The sadness is that for some people, like Anthony Delaney, it could be the best option.

Let us know how you have survived a long-haul Gatwick wait.