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 Change.org 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.

9 comments on “Oxford Beggar Traps Update

  1. “Aggressive” begging needs to be well defined. Having been pursued down Cornmarket by a very aggressive beggar who would not leave me alone, I can sympathise with the need for a solution. But the solution needs to be fair, and be based on clear evidence of aggression.

    • That can be prosecuted under ‘Attempted robbery – demanding money where violence was offered or used’. As long as you are a person of “Reasonable Firmness” (!) if you believed violence was likely the beggar was actually a mugger.

  2. Dear Mark Thomas,
    You are absolutely amazing…. persistent, brilliant in your well researched, ACCURATE programmes and events and extremely funny and amazingly amazing…well that is my view anyway! You are one of those people the powerful dread it seems to me – strange how powerful people have a problem with the truthful exposure of inhuman treatment of people – do they live in a bubble of affirmation of everything they do and surround themselves with sycophants afraid of losing their jobs and positions so they become incapable of seeing the ghastly truths of what they do to other human beings and the planet…talking about the planet – .just wondering – the US film ‘Cowspiracy’ – no doubt you have heard of it – have you considered doing a programme on the environmental issues it raises?
    My understanding is there is now a law – I think it is called something like US Food Disparagement Law….did I get that right? Does it mean we cannot have a discourse on food production…and endangering human beings …..maybe I got that wrong!
    Just seemed like a superb subject for your brilliant comedic skill of opening up discourse on corporate behaviours which disadvantage all of us trying to live on a planet while industrial giants seem to try and eradicate the rainforest – our lungs – on a massive scale. Well respected, legendary environmentalists seem to shy away from this topic – is it because they might be put out of business if they take it on? Surely not! Could animal agriculture – cattle – really be more of a worry for us all than fossil fuel? ..Anyway…just a thought. Might be worth a look if you haven’t already done so. …
    And thanks for informing me in EVERY programme you make and every event you organise.
    Warmest wishes

  3. One of the greatest guitarists I’ve ever seen was a busker- presumably that counts in some definition as a beggar- in Oxford. He was playing it lain flat like a zither. God damn the midget minded who could only be improved upon by being taken forcibly to new age music festivals to experience the enjoyment and friendship. An Oxford education is not complete until an undergraduate gives freely to a beggar. Thank you Mark.

  4. A fine by proxy of court then! With the true aim of enforced rehab and engagement with support services. The real issue of why people mistrust the system and prefer freedom, no matter how tough that road may be, is much thornier and requires a different kind of support, not strong arm tactics. Inside that box costs £150 and keeps everything ticking over, outside that box is…peace and love x

  5. * On PSPO’s ( the ’emotional’ price! )

    I’m a Street Performer from Birmingham & over the last few days have been ‘busking’ in the city’s Xmas German Market. To tell you the truth I’m sick of being ‘cadged’ off by the city-centres ‘alcoholic’s’ & ‘junkies i.e. I just get going, not making much money after 1hr in the ‘freezing’ cold, & then to cap it all some Geezer with a ‘tinnie’ in his hand casually strolls up to me & asks for a quid ( yes, very annoying! ).

    The obvious solution is having your own brand of ‘street-nouse’ in getting rid of these ‘annoying’ ( yes sometimes downright unsavoury ) brand of characters. The other well established ( & effective! ) method for dealing with such nuisances is by traditional ‘good’ city/town centre policing. Its a key part of the job for the police to know ‘whos-who’ in their ‘patch’ & in turn know the best way for dealing with them. No need for ‘draconianism’ here, no need to hit them with ‘unpayable’ on-the-spot fines, a simple ‘police’ prescence is enought to send ’em on their way.

    No doubt PSPO’s are seen as the Anti-social behaviour ‘eldorado’ for many authorities ( ‘interestingly’ Labour ones! ) in this age of austerity i.e. as a ‘cut price’ alternative to traditional policing. The ‘deterrent’ effect of a hefty fine viewed as a ‘practical’ solution to the many ‘street people’ ( experienced ‘cons’ ) deemed a nuisance to others with their ‘aggressive’ begging etc ( by that I mean hard pressure tactics, intimidation albeit mild etc ). Even the ones who no longer ‘care’ about themselves never mind others, & who always think in terms of short-term gratification ( not long-term pain ) are seen as fair game for this kind of ‘anti-social’ policy.

    However again, based upon ‘observation’ & personal experience ( i.e as someone who has suffered much ‘street’ nuicance ), good policing works better for me than than ‘control’ orders & PSPO’s etc. The main reason; understandably for a Busker you might guess, though important to me as a ‘human-being’ as well I might add, is that I don’t want to see general ‘civic’ freedoms ‘sacrificed’ in any way ( not so much in practice but importantly in ‘tone’ ) so as to combat so called ‘anti-social’ problems.

    And that is what is happening here possibly with the introduction of PSPO’s, ‘new’ anti-social behaviour orders as a law & order ‘tool”. Together they merely end up adding to an overall ‘restrictive’ sense of everyday lifes rather than as a ‘practical’ solution to everyday misdemeanor & crime. What we end up with here is not ’emotional’ security & release but intstead a creeping sensation of encroachment of not a ‘police’ state ( under the ‘current’ cuts regime the police are disappearing in large numbers & I’m all for fighting to save them! ) but an invisible, 1984 style ‘neo-liberal’ beauractratic ‘nightmare’ culture, of justice by Tesco Express!.

Comments are closed.