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Organised begging syndicate ‘sending team to Kentish Town’

Police chief: There is no specific offence of co-ordinating begging, believe it or not

17 July, 2019 — By Richard Osley

Raj Kohli took questions from councillors on Tuesday evening

POLICE have been urged to crack down on an “organised street begging syndicate” reported to have sent a team to target shoppers in Kentish Town.

Former mayor Jenny Headlam-Wells said she was aware of an operation trying to get money from people using the High Street at a council scrutiny meeting on Tuesday night.

“At Leighton Road and Kentish Town Road, a transit van pulls up and out get a little organised team of beggars,” she said. “There are usually four or five working at any particular time in the High Street and you can recognise them because they have exactly the same folded cardboard notices. They say: ‘Hungry. God bless you.’”

Cllr Headlam-Wells, a Labour ward councillor in Kentish Town, was questioning Camden police’s chief superintendant Raj Kohli at a session where backbenchers get to fire questions at the borough’s most senior officer.

She said: “At the same time, we have our long serving Big Issue seller, a yong woman who is out all hours, all weathers, even when she was heavily pregnant, actually working. Do you have a plan for dealing with this? We’ve got one team [in Kentish Town] but there must be an organised syndicate of people who go around.”

Conservative councillor Henry Newman said he believed a similar operation was going on in Hampstead High Street.

Chief Supt Kohli said: “What we have here, is begging is a crime under the Vagrancy Act, it’s a really low-level crime. There is no specific offence of co-ordinating begging, believe it or not.”

He added that every ward had its own action plan and ward councillors could inform the sergeant what their priorities are. There needed to be care around selecting what areas to concentrate on, he said, because “too many priorities would mean there were no priorities”.

Chief Supt Kohli arrived in the job five months ago and also leads Islington police.

He told the committee: “It’s about what you want: if it’s organised begging, or if it’s drug dealing, whatever it might be, yourselves and the safer neighbourhood panel can work on a hyperlocal approach to tackling some of this stuff.”

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