Glasgow panhandler wins appeal: Scotsman editorial complains FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 17 May 1998 08:20:48 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  May 16, 1998  The Scotsman - Editorial comment


IT IS time to clarify the language of social concern.
"Begging", like "tramp", is still too easily taken to mean
colourful indigents forced to degrade themselves by asking
strangers for money. Sometimes, even now, that is
precisely what it means. At others time, however, it can
mean anything from the behaviour of the mentally disturbed
released to the tender mercies of care in the community, to
fraud, to simple extortion. Beggars can be crippled by
alcohol or drugs and seeking money to fund their habits.
They can be genuinely homeless teenagers. Or they can be
crooks, pure and simple, who have realised that there is an
easy, tax-free profit to be had in public sympathy.

Whatever the case, it is the phenomenon of aggressive
begging, for whatever reason it arises, that disturbs the

A court case in which a beggar has won his appeal against a
conviction for breach of the peace in Glasgow will do nothing
to allay that concern. Clearly, the law as it stands is incapable
of dealing with an individual who, while not abusive,
disturbed and alarmed up to 15 people (almost all of them
women) in the space of ten minutes.

Thus the Justiciary Appeal Court has held that the conduct of
the beggar would not have been likely to cause alarm or fear -
even, paradoxically, if it actually did - because the reactions of
the alleged victims were "subjective", varying according to
their temperaments. As Lord Johnston put it, since begging
itself cannot be classified as breach of the peace, each case
"must depend upon the way in which the begging operation is
being conducted".

This may explain the law but it does not explain how the
law can be of real use to the police or to people, particularly
women, who are simply alarmed by any approach from
beggars. It forgets that aggressive begging can be a matter of
persistence rather than obvious abuse or physical contact. It
forgets, too, that people must have the right to walk

There is a need for a new law, in other words. If beggars are
social casualties the appropriate agencies should be dealing
with them. If they are crooks, aggressive or otherwise, the
police should have the power to deal with them. The fact
remains that nothing will be achieved until beggars can be
removed from the streets and women, the aged and children
can feel safe. As things stand it is they who are, too often,
the "excluded" of our cities.


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