Royal wedding: Theresa May joins Windsor begging row debate

Media caption,
"Medieval": Find out what Windsor makes of the royal wedding row

Theresa May has entered into the debate about "aggressive begging" in Windsor ahead of the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.

The prime minister said she disagreed with council leader Simon Dudley, who urged police to tackle the issue before the St George's Chapel ceremony on 19 May.

Mrs May said councils should "work with police" and ensure accommodation was provided for homeless people.

Mr Dudley has been asked for comment.

He had written that beggars could present the town in a "sadly unfavourable light" ahead of the royal wedding.

Media caption,
Royal wedding: Theresa May joins Windsor begging row debate

Asked about his remarks during a visit to a hospital in nearby Camberley, Mrs May said: "I don't agree with the comments that the leader of the council has made."

Mrs May, who is MP in the neighbouring constituency of Maidenhead, added: "Where there are issues of people who are aggressively begging on the streets then it's important that councils work with the police to deal with that aggressive begging."

Lord Bird, founder of the street newspaper, The Big Issue, said criminalising or temporarily moving rough sleepers was "not the answer".

"The young royals have a fantastic track record in addressing this issue," he said, "so I've no doubt that Harry and Meghan will be equally concerned that this issue is tackled in a way that creates real, and sustainable change in the lives of homeless people."

Media caption,
James lives on the streets of Windsor

James, 35, who lives on the streets of Windsor, said: "[Mr Dudley] should come out and talk to the homeless and find out what their stories are before he makes those kind of accusations."

He said he did not believe there were aggressive beggars in the town, and that ultimately deciding to give money or not was up to the individual.

"It is not our choice to be homeless," he said. "Everyone has their own reasons, everyone has their own story."

Image caption,
Murphy James, of the Windsor Homeless Project, said the views expressed by Windsor council leader Simon Dudley were "misinformed"

Murphy James, of the Windsor Homeless Project, said the views expressed by Mr Dudley were "misinformed".

"It was totally unwarranted to bring the royal wedding into this," he added.

"This shouldn't be a situation that's hit the headlines because of a royal wedding. This is a situation that should have hit the headlines because there's people sleeping in bus shelters."

Mr Dudley described street begging in the town as creating a "hostile atmosphere" for both residents and tourists in a letter to Thames Valley Police and Crime Commissioner Anthony Stansfeld.

Mr Stansfeld said many of the people on the streets of Windsor were "very vulnerable and have mental health issues".

"It's not as easy as putting them in a police van and dumping them in Southall or somewhere. It's much more complicated than that," he said.

The Rev Louise Brown, a vicar in nearby Dedworth, said no beggars had ever been aggressive to her in Windsor when she had spoken to them.

She said: "Yes some of them have got drink problems, but without support from the council to find real solutions I think the problem is going to be there.

"You can't just sweep it away because it's a royal town."

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The couple will marry at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle in May

Eight people were sleeping rough in the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead at the last official count in 2016, according to government statistics. This was down from 35 in 2015.

Resident Robert Colwell, 70, said he thought Mr Dudley's comments were "disproportionate".

"Their wedding is going to be headline news and you don't want that underlined by something insensitive," he said.

Jesse Grey, Mr Dudley's Conservative colleague on the Royal Borough of Windsor & Maidenhead, said there were concerns about "persistent beggars".

"People do get attracted to Windsor - we get seven million visitors a year and it's quite lucrative for some people," he said.

"If the beggars are persistent it's not very nice for our residents and visitors to Windsor."

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