Romanian police join investigation into gangs controlling beggars
Officers probe van that arrives with people who are 'told to engage in begging'
26 January, 2018 — By William McLennan
PC Michael O’Grady on patrol
POLICE are investigating claims that an organised crime gang is controlling beggars in Camden.
Met officers have teamed up with their Romanian counterparts to probe the allegation, which the New Journal understands is being treated as a suspected human trafficking offence. It is believed that gangmasters are transporting people into busy areas south of Euston Road and then ordering them to beg or steal.
Camden officers were joined by a Romanian colleague, one of four seconded to assist the Met, during a patrol around Bloomsbury on Friday morning.
PC Michael O’Grady, who is the only dedicated “street population engagement” officer in London, said: “We have had information that around this area, Endell Street and Tottenham Court Road, a van has been seen dropping off some of the Roma community, who we believe are then told to go to several locations and engage in criminality or begging. We haven’t identified exactly who is behind this yet, but work is ongoing behind the scenes.”
He added: “A lot of these individuals we believe could be vulnerable. They could be involved in organised crime where they have no choice. They may have been brought to the country with the promise of a job and this job has not materialised and they have no option but to get involved in anti-social behaviour and criminality.”
A survey of rough sleepers by Camden Council in November found that, of 127 people on the street, around 50 were Romanian, with the majority described as being from the “Roma community”. PC O’Grady said that, alongside language skills, the Romanian officers bring a wealth of cultural understanding that assists in their outreach work.
He said: “The Romanian officers bring their expertise of dealing with the Roma community. We are seeing a lot more of the Roma community entering the UK. They have dealt with the Roma long before the UK police force have dealt with them. They tell us exactly why they are here. A lot of what I deal with is low-level criminality and anti-social behaviour, such as begging, thefts and other petty crimes, that we believe some are involved in, not all.”
The Romanian officer, a trained murder detective, said he could not comment on his work in London.
In the hour-long patrol, supported by neighbourhood officers from Bloomsbury, police checked on the welfare of around a dozen rough sleepers, handing out cards for council homelessness services. In one instance, a young man was found to be wanted for breach of a criminal behaviour order and was arrested.
The interaction between police and rough sleepers has proved contentious. Activists protested outside Kentish Town police station in October, after officers removed tents from several makeshift camps being used by rough sleepers.
PC O’Grady said: “Homelessness is not a crime. We do not set out to target these individuals, they are all vulnerable. In my role what I try to target is the criminality and anti-social behaviour that is associated with some of the homeless. It’s not all of them, it’s a number who engage in this behaviour.”