One of the most incendiary claims made by the leader of Windsor Council in his push for police to banish the homeless from the town before the royal wedding is not backed up by a single complaint to the council.
Tory councillor Simon Dudley sparked an angry reaction from homeless charities after writing to Thames Valley Police (TVP) urging it to take action against “aggressive begging and intimidation in Windsor” ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s 19 May nuptials at Windsor Castle.
It followed a series of tweets in late December in which Dudley claimed people were “marching tourists to cashpoints” in the borough, an allegation seized upon in multiple media reports that followed.
But the claim does not feature in any of the 60-odd complaints about homelessness and begging recorded by the Royal Borough Of Windsor and Maidenhead (RBWM) council between January 2017 and January 2018 and released to HuffPost UK under a Freedom of Information (FOI) request.
The complaint logs add to questions about the veracity of the council leader’s comments, which were reported far and wide, but have never been backed up with evidence.
Police said at the time they had not received any complaints of “anyone being marched” to ATMs, but Dudley has never withdrawn the allegation. He has not responded to repeated requests for comment by HuffPost.
Having released the complaint logs, RBWM also declined to comment, saying it was a matter for Dudley to address directly.
Murphy James, of the Windsor Homeless Project, previously condemned Dudley’s comments as “sickening”. He said Dudley’s claim, coupled with interest in the royal wedding, had created a “whirlwind of a story”.
“It does no good to anyone to make things up,” he said.
“I’m not saying he was lying. He might have heard from someone that, that is the case. But the fact he didn’t research it himself before repeating it... and creating a whirlwind of a story.”
While the council records do not mention people being “marched” to cashpoints, they do reflect widespread concerns around the number of rough sleepers and “aggressive” begging in the borough. This backs up what Dudley wrote to TVP when he urged it to use its powers under the 1824 Vagrancy Act – which criminalises rough sleepers – and the 2014 Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act.
Complaints to the council largely concerned rough sleepers blocking pavements, stairwells, doorways and exits, and behaviours such as drinking, using drugs and people using public places as toilets. Discarded syringes and rubbish were raised, as was mess left by rough sleepers.
There were also fears that “street dwellers’ paraphernalia” could “easily be abused by terrorists”, a point Dudley passed on to police in his letter, suggesting “bags and detritus” left behind was a “significant security concern”.
Only one complaint mentioned an ATM, but it did not allege coercion.
As a first time tourist to Windsor yesterday I was disgusted to find the main street up the hill alongside the castle littered with down-and-outs sleeping rough, begging tourists for money. We come to enjoy your beautiful town, not to be accosted for money. One down-and-out was right by the bank ATM. A complaint lodged with the council on 1 December, 2017
Another complaint from a mother said her 15-year-old daughter had been asked if she had a bank card, having told a beggar she only had £1 on her.
Several complaints, while not alleging physical violence, suggested beggars were becoming more “brazen in their collection” and “more aggressive” – leaving people feeling “hassled”, “intimidated” and “vulnerable”.
James said he had not heard of anyone being marched to an ATM in Windsor, nor was he aware of any aggressive behaviour, but acknowledged that sometimes “someone might have got out of the wrong side of the bed, no pun intended... but that’s called survival”.
One complainant, who told the council they had served as a diplomat and in the police, reported having “serious concerns for personal safety” after being “hassled by beggars” who were being “quite threatening in their approach” at a car park. Other reports told of beggars trying to sell discount parking codes to motorists.
James said strangers in car parks, whether they are a “16-year-old lad or a group of drunk men”, lead to feelings of intimidation, “even if it isn’t actually there... it is an anxiety we all have... a natural part of life”.
The complaints were full of derogatory descriptions of the homeless, with rough sleepers being referred to as an “eyesore”, “offensive” a “blight” and “down-and-outs”.
One person said they were “ashamed” to live in Windsor, while another was “horrified” at what they had witnessed, asking: “Where has humanity gone?”
A third, whose complaint was logged on 25 November, claimed homelessness in the borough was at “epidemic proportions to [the] point of tripping over them.”
Dudley used the word “epidemic” to describe the social issue in his tweet on 27 December.
Examples of complaints about the homeless to the council:
“A cardboard village will be set up outside the Queen’s home. Getting much worse, looks a state, worse than it’s ever been.”
“This is an eyesore and growing there must be something that can be done. This behaviour is unacceptable in our High Street.”
“Ashamed to live here. Feel unsafe as vagrants are drunk or on drugs.”
“Complaining about explosion in homeless number in Windsor. Epidemic proportions to point of tripping over them. Can RBWM do something about this?”
“They are a blight. They are offensive.”
“Woman sitting on a rug asking for money and a cigarette - daunting and unpleasant.”
“Where has humanity gone?”
James admitted he was disheartened by the tone of the complaints, but said it was a common reaction to homeless people.
I don’t think anybody in society should be referred to as a ‘down-and-out’. To refer to somebody like that, you’re saying they’re lower than you... no one is lower or higher, they’re all just people and we’re all just one step away from finding ourselves in the same situation. Murphy James
He continued: “All we can say is that we’ve had a massive amount of people respond to us, from all over the world, in favour of supporting the homeless. An outpouring of support.”
In the days after the story broke, Dudley, while on a skiing holiday in the Rocky mountains, sidestepped calls him for him to apologise, instead referring to the local authorities’ homeless action plan and the fact the council was still awaiting a response from police.
Prime Minister Theresa May was drawn into the conversation, and said “I don’t agree with the comments” Dudley made. Days later, he sought to clarify his position on the Andrew Peach Show on BBC Radio Berkshire, addressing separately the issues of homelessness and anti-social behaviour.
“I would like to apologise if I was not clear enough in my communication that this was an issue about anti-social behaviour, and if that message failed to get across the responsibility for that is firmly with me,” he said, according to a report by MailOnline.
Asked why he brought up the royal wedding, Dudley said: “I wouldn’t have done on reflection. I wouldn’t have put a hashtag in a tweet that said Royal Wedding. I would not have done that. I think that allowed people to look at it in a certain way when it really wasn’t about that.”
Dudley went on to explain how more visitors to Windsor would only exacerbate the issue, “the size of the opportunity to commercially [beg] is going to grow in Windsor”.
On 29 January, Dudley survived a council vote on a motion accusing him of bringing the authority “into disrepute”, which he dismissed as being “driven by personal issues from some individuals which are longstanding and well known by this council”.
Earlier this week Dudley was forced to backtrack on another idea to combat rough sleepers in his borough, with a public outcry leading to the council scrapping plans to fine them £100 as part of a new “homelessness support strategy”.
The plan also included the introduction of a public space protection order (PSPO) to ban aggressive or proactive begging, requests for money, leaving bedding and belongings in a public area and urination or defecation in town centres. Breaching the ban would be enforced by a £100 penalty, which could result in a £1,000 fine and conviction if ignored.
James said the withdrawn proposals “clearly shows their way of thinking... their first solution is to start fining people”.
“It doesn’t make any sense,” he told HuffPost, taking the time to detail the chain of events that would have transpired had the plans been approved.
“They’re talking about cleaning up the streets, and that taxpayers’ money is being wasted cleaning up after these people... [yet] you’ve just wasted thousands and thousands of pounds to try and get someone to pay £100.”
James’s comments came as MailOnline reported that tents had started appearing next to Windsor Castle.
The article quoted property developer Rob Blyfield, who said: “I’m not happy about it at all, it’s like tent city. It’s embarrassing, especially with the royal wedding coming up.
“The homeless are putting the tourists off by lying around on the streets in front of them. It’s not right.”
A selection of complaints:
Pleading that someone in authority – be it our MP, our Town Centre manager, our council or police - to now show some leadership, indeed show some authority, and tackle this issue by ‘ridding’ the town of this issue before spending £2.6m upgrading before the wedding. A cardboard village will be set up outside the Queen’s home. Getting much worse, looks a state, worse than it’s ever been.
Serious concerns for personal safety at River Street car park in
Windsor and being hassled by beggars. Old system of pay and
display better and allowed pay in advance. Queue of 200ft long
for the 2 machines at 10.30pm taking 20mins being hassled by
drunks, beggars for money, some being quite threatening in their
approach saying they needed £50 or they could not get home,
twice by the same person. Felt threatened and vulnerable having
to wait to retrieve vehicle. Many people in line complained of fears
and discomfort stating would not be returning to Windsor whilst
situation continued. No Police around. Restaurant manager told
them they close early because no one wants to stay late in the
Maidenhead homeless (M&S in particular) This is an eyesore,
and growing there must be something that can be done. This
behaviour is unacceptable in our High Street.
Vagrants/beggars on streets. Ashamed to live here. Feel unsafe
as vagrants are drunk or on drugs. Police say RBWM dragging
feet and not their problem.
Complaining about explosion in homeless number in Windsor TC. Epidemic proportions to point of tripping over them. Can
RBWM do something about this?
Beggars in Victoria St CP. Woman smiling sitting on a rug
asking for money and a cigarette – daunting and unpleasant.
Ticket machine not working so had to stay longer to work out
what to do or find another machine. 2nd visit to CP with smiling woman again asking for help, change, somewhere to stay the night. Asking more people the same questions. Embarrassment to the community. They are
begging. They are a blight. They are offensive.
Beggars by ATM feeling unsafe: As a first time tourist to Windsor
yesterday I was disgusted to find the main street up the hill
alongside the castle littered with down-and-outs sleeping rough,
begging tourists for money. We come to enjoy your beautiful
town, not to be accosted for money. One down and out was
right by the Bank ATM, I felt he would be pouncing on me for my
money. I won’t be returning.
Increasingly worse homeless situation. Traders reporting theft of
handbag, cashbox (trader losing £100s), unruly behaviour,
excess alcohol consumption, swearing and generally absolutely
unacceptable behaviour in an area thick with families. Despite
ringing 101 on several occasions they are never moved on or
dealt with. Two piles of human excrement directly on highway
where shoppers walk in front of street food traders stall. Should
not be in my remit to clean up piles of human excrement,
disgusting and health hazard. I filled black bags of rubbish left by
homeless and removed, I had to throw away my shoes.
Increasing scale of ASB and adverse impact.
Homeless in Windsor – rough sleepers. Visiting from abroad.
Horrified to see homeless men and women on the street.
Where has humanity gone?
2/1/18 - email to Dudley
15yr old Daughter + friend outside Clinton Cards, Windsor Yards
stopped by a lady asking for money to get somewhere for travel
purposes. Daughter said ‘only had a £1’ Street dweller asked if
she had a bank card. Daughter ‘no’ thankfully and went off.
Reported to TVP. 11yrd old son might have said yes to bank
card question! Unacceptable ASB and aggressive begging.
This event was on the back of others incidents in Oct to Dec 17
period – has been approached several times directly. All times
individuals asking for money for public transport. Feels there are
also security issues with beggars outside castle and guard route and worried about the significant growth in volume and
frequency of the street dwellers’ paraphernalia which could
so easily by abused by terrorists and present a security
threat to local residents and visitors.
Resident complaining that we should force Police to take legal
action on the people loitering and littering the streets of
Windsor Town. Commandeered the bus stop where people
should be waiting to sleep and keep their belongings.