More than 40 rough sleepers make Gatwick airport their home every year, it has been claimed.

A homeless charity says people are attracted to the airport from all over the country as it is seen as a "soft touch".

They avoid detection by blending in with passengers waiting for flights, and bed down in the relatively warm and safe terminal for months on end.

The news comes after The Argus revealed that homeless Anthony Delaney was locked up this week after making the 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.

Peter Mansfield-Clark is the director of Crawley Open House, a homeless charity with a 24-bed hostel.

He said: "We get roughly 40 people a year who spend time living at Gatwick. They sleep there and then come to us in the daytime where we give them food and medical and housing advice.

"We get homeless people from all over the country. Gatwick is seen as a soft touch, and they are told the streets of Crawley are paved with gold because there are a lot of jobs here."

Crawley Open House provides accommodation for about 350 people each year. The average stay is about seven weeks until alternative accommodation can be found, often elsewhere in the country.

Mr Mansfield-Clark said he was not surprised to hear about the case of Anthony Delaney.

He added: "My only surprise was that we had never come across him, as the services at the airport send homeless people straight to us when they are caught.

"For the homeless, the airport is attractive because it is warm and comfortable, and they are not likely to be found. Gatwick is also easy to get to and the most important thing is that it is safe.

"We have people who live in small tents near the charity while they wait for a room in our hostel. They are open to be attacked or robbed, while the airport is much safer.

"It is right that these people are moved on by security in the airport, but you can understand why some people take that risk.

"They are very adept at getting away with it. If you know the ropes and can blend in with holidaymakers it can be quite easy to stay for a long time."

But a spokesman for BAA Gatwick said anyone found living in the airport is moved on.

He said: "Safety and security for all our airport users are our top priorities. Security staff, the police and our terminal management patrol the airport and anybody we think may be in breach of the bylaws will be spoken to and dealt with appropriately."

Should Gatwick crack down on rough sleepers? Tell us what you think below.

Reporter Simon Barrett this week spent 24 hours at Gatwick airport hoping to avoid detection with just £5 in his pocket. Read his special report on this website.