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Ian Thompson, Metropolitan Police Asst Commisioner
"Our main focus is street crime"
 real 28k

Sunday, 12 March, 2000, 20:21 GMT
Crackdown on beggars signalled
Beggar
London police want to sweep beggars off the streets
Police will be given more powers to clamp down on beggars if they want them, the government has indicated.

Home Office minister Paul Boateng said he was confident the police already had enough weapons to deal with begging.

But he stressed ministers were ready to look at toughening up the law if that was required.

He also issued an uncompromising message to immigrants from eastern Europe who have come under the spotlight recently for aggressive begging in London.

But the Refugee Council says that highlighting the eastern European beggars will only fuel hatred on the streets.

Stark message

Mr Boateng told the BBC's On The Record programme: "Nobody has an excuse to beg in this aggressive fashion and the police have the powers to deal with it.

"If the police come back to us and tell us that they don't have sufficient powers then of course we will look - because as a matter of criminal justice policy this is an area of concern - we'll look at making sure they do have sufficient powers."

Mr Boateng stressed the police had not asked for more powers or assistance from government to tackle the problem.

His message to east European gypsies was stark.

Zero tolerance

"There is an increase in the number of gypsies from eastern Europe on our streets who maintain that this is part of their traditional lifestyle," he said.

"Well, if it is part of their traditional lifestyle then it isn't acceptable in this country and the police and the courts - backed up by the government - will bring that message home to them."

Mr Boateng said he backed Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir John Stevens "100%", whatever he decided to do about beggars on the streets of the capital.

Refugee Council chief executive Nick Hardwick said: "To suggest that the behaviour of a tiny minority is typical of all Roma or asylum seekers is outrageous.

"Instead of fuelling hatred, we hope the Government and police will start showing zero tolerance towards hostility against asylum seekers. Such hysteria whips up ill-informed hatred and resentment."

London's police chief has said he will operate a "zero tolerance" policy to all beggars, promising to sweep them off London's streets.
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