Concerns grow over “aggressive” Roma begging in St John’s Wood

A Roma beggar in St John's Wood (Pic credit: Adam Thomas)

A Roma beggar in St John's Wood (Pic credit: Adam Thomas) - Credit: Archant

Residents are calling for urgent action to tackle increasingly “brazen” tactics being used by groups of beggars in St John’s Wood, Maida Vale and Marylebone.

Incidents of aggressive behaviour and petty crime involving groups of Roma beggars around the Church Street market area of St John’s Wood have been on the rise in recent months, with residents and councillors challenging a decision to remove council CCTV cameras from the area.

Sylvia Meek, 77, who lives on the Lisson Grove estate said: “They shouldn’t have taken the cameras away. That’s the worst thing they could have done.

“Every street round here there seems to be a beggar. Nine times out of ten they arrive in a group together and they’re quite rude- It keeps people away.”

Councillors have joined calls from Church Street Antique dealers for the return of CCTV cameras to the junctions of Ashbridge Street, Gateforth Street and Lisson Grove to stem a spread of organized “begging rings” operating near their businesses.

Leon Young, spokesman for the Church Street Antiques Dealers Group said: “It is a concern for the antiques dealers on Church Street that the cameras have been withdrawn.

“The removal has had the effect of an increase in begging, particularly on Saturdays.”

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Labour Councillor for Church Street Ward Barbara Grahame said: “They’re more visible now than they used to be. There’s a woman who is half lying across the road, people have to step around her.

“One older resident reported to me that she came and tapped her on the shoulder and followed her.”

A spokesman for Westminster Council said: “CCTV is just one way to tackle crime, but it is not a silver bullet. We look at areas and place cameras where there is a proven need. If residents are concerned in Church Street, we will listen to them and consider reviewing the situation with police.

Thomas Crockett, Conservative Councillor told the Wood and Vale there are growing concerns about organized begging rings operating in his ward in Maida Vale and the Marylebone area.

“There have been several cases of aggressive Roma begging on Shirland Road. There’s a man with an accordion, an old lady and others and it’s not nice, it’s hugely unpleasant and it’s also spreading to Marylebone. They’re brazen.

“Increasingly begging in central London is very organized, they’re picked up in white vans so the money you give doesn’t go to feed the dirty baby that’s shoved in your face.”