Cuckooed in New York

The God of Visas has smiled upon him and Mark is now in New York until 21st November performing Cuckooed at the 59e59 Theatre (near the south east corner of Central Park).

The show won the Amnesty International Freedom of Expression award 2014.

So tell your American friends and comrades, and anyone lucky enough to be on holiday in the area come and say hello.

There is a discount of 20% with the code THOMASNYC – details are on the attached flyer.


Oxford Beggar Traps Update

This Monday morning saw the installation of ‘beggar traps’ outside Oxford City Council offices. These boxes big enough for a human, have metal grills propped open with sticks, string is attached to the stick ready to pull away the support and shut the trap. Inside is a cup of tea to lure beggars. Two young women walk past with their children and loudly proclaim,

“That is disgusting.”

“That is outrageous,” says the other, “they shouldn’t be doing that!”


As it turned out they were the first of quite a few who believed the traps to be real, with passers-by tutting,


“Haven’t they got better things to do!” and


That so many thought the traps real either speaks volumes of human credulity or council belligerence, quite possibly both.

The traps were made by local artist Lois Muddiman – with whom I concocted the idea after a show – and were made to highlight Oxford City Council’s plans to entrap beggars. Here is how they will do it:

The council intends to vote through a Public Space Protection Order this Thursday (15th Oct) which will make “aggressive begging” – by which they mean begging near a cash point machine  – in the designated area of the city centre an offence liable to a fine, a Fixed Penalty Notice, of £100.


When I posted about this last week Oxford City Council went on the offensive.

Writing on the Change.Org website in response the council claimed, “The redrafted PSPO now only targets those begging aggressively, such as those begging next to cash points, and categorically will not require them to pay a fine.”

Oxford City Council claimed instead they would be helping beggars access services by sending them to a Magistrates Court – making them automatically liable for the mandatory court charge of £150 if they plead guilty (much more if they are foolish enough to plead not guilty). And of course a likely additional fine and a criminal record. Not exactly the help most beggars need.


“We will not be fining homeless people.” The council tweeted at me. “We want to use PSPO to take aggressive beggars to court to require them to get help they need, ie rehab”


When I had the audacity to claim they were being disingenuous the council fired off another missive,


“we will not be fining beggars. Please change your website to reflect this.”

After taking legal advice, they were today forced into admitting the truth:

Chief Exec Peter Sloman wrote, “I understand that a Council posting on last week stated the Council would not impose a Fixed Penalty Notice for aggressively begging. That is not correct.”

He lists what the council could do: “Report the offense to the police; Issue a fixed penalty notice; Prosecute in the Magistrates Court,” and notes that “Court does charge a court fee and could decide to issue a fine.”

So exactly as I had described. The Council is voting to give itself the powers to issue on the spot fines to people begging or take them to court where more punitive charges and costs will be levied at them and thus entrap beggars in debt and the criminal justice system.

“I am sorry if our statement…was misleading” Sloman went on. On Saturday I asked Oxford City Council whether they were being incompetent or disingenuous. Today’s events suggest they are both.




Oxford City Council are giving themselves new powers to entrap the poor, to criminalise them, put them into debt and into prison.

This Thursday the council vote on a measure to punish people begging near cashpoint machines by making them pay an on the spot £100 fine.

The council know most beggars won’t be able to pay this.

They know beggars will be forced to a Magistrates’ court and will have to pay at least another £150 in court charges.

They know most won’t be able to pay the increasing burden of debt and fines.

They know people will be imprisoned… for the crime of begging near a cashpoint machine.

The council’s defence is as weak as it is absurd. They say:

“…the intention is not to use the fixed penalty approach as the people concerned are unlikely in many cases to have the financial resources to meet a fine.”

So why bother bringing in this measure? They say:

“Instead, the PSPO will be used as a route to the Magistrates’ Court where magistrates have the power to require them to engage with the extensive and effective drugs, alcohol or homelessness services that are available in the city”

But what this means in reality is beggars will be subject to Grayling’s mandatory court charge of at least £150 as well as facing further punishment as is happening now:

Mark Smith, 38, of no fixed address, admitted persistently begging in a public place, Cornmarket Street, Oxford, in May. Also admitted breaching an antisocial behaviour order made on December 12 prohibiting him from sitting within 10 metres of a cash machine in Cornmarket Street. Sent to prison for 30 days and ordered to pay a £150 criminal courts charge.

Matthew Dobbs, 26, of Speedwell Street, Oxford, admitted begging in Cornmarket Street, Oxford, on March 28. Also admitted failing to surrender to custody at Oxford Magistrates’ Court without good reason on April 22. Fined £50 and ordered to pay a £20 victims’ surcharge and a £150 criminal courts charge.

Oxford City Council know that as soon as a beggar is sent to a Magistrates’ court they are setting them further on a path of indebtedness and exclusion

This is not about helping people, it is about punishing people for the crime of being poor. Begging prosecutions have increased by nearly 400% in the Thames Valley area and the new powers will only allow more. This has nothing to do with offering people help. All the council care about is socially cleansing the centre of Oxford so it looks nice. Oxford City Council are the Hyacinth Bucket of the Labour movement – they are concerned only with appearances.

Come and join us in taking action against Oxford City Council’s proposed PSPO (Public Space Protection Order) on MONDAY 12 OCTOBER. Meet at 10am at Carfax Tower where we will be installing street art to protest the measure.