PSPO Watch: Kingdom Security come, thy will be done

Posted by Rosie Brighouse on 15 November 2016

Enforcement officers are experienced and will only take action when there is an obvious problem. We expect them to use their common sense in applying these measures and they have been trained to do so.

So said a Gravesham Borough Council spokesperson following mass criticism of Gravesend’s Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which criminalises lying down or sleeping in public.

Oh, how wrong they were.

The council has since contracted private firm Kingdom Security to provide a team – headed by “experts with an ex-police and military background” – to enforce certain aspects of the PSPO.

PSPOs let councils ban any activity they deem to have a “detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality”. Breaching them results in an on-the-spot fine of up to £100 – or prosecution in the Magistrates’ Court and a possible £1,000 penalty if that fine goes unpaid.

Liberty has campaigned against PSPOs from their creation. They are vague and overly broad, letting councils – often with little or no public consultation – ban non-criminal activities overnight, chipping away at residents’ rights and freedoms.

They’ve been used to outlaw everything from gathering in groups of two or more to skateboarding and cycling. In August, we warned of the dangers of councils employing private firms to enforce them.

Litter bugbear

Now a Liberty Freedom of Information Act request has revealed Gravesham pays Kingdom Security £45 for every correctly issued fixed penalty notice (FPN) – directly incentivising enforcement officers to dole out as many as possible.

Kingdom’s activities in Maidstone – where it keeps half the money collected from FPNs – were recently suspended after a resident landed an £80 fine for littering when she was in fact feeding ducks.

It’s now being reported that Gravesham Council is also locked in a dispute with Kingdom over fines its officers have issued.

We’ve asked the Council for an explanation of that reported dispute, and for a commitment that no private company will ever be permitted to enforce the part of the PSPO relating to rough sleeping.

We’ve also asked that it reconsider whether employing a private firm is an appropriate means of enforcing a PSPO. We await the Council’s response.

Winter is coming

As winter closes in, authorities should be doing their utmost to help those in need and find them shelter. Yet Rushcliffe and Cherwell councils have recently approved PSPOs which make it a crime to sleep rough.

Rushcliffe Borough Council says its aim is to stop people littering, urinating or vomiting in public, and behaving aggressively. But these activities are not wholly tied to sleeping on the streets – and are either already criminal offences or could be specifically prohibited under a PSPO.

And Cherwell District Council has approved an Order for Banbury which will place a blanket ban on rough sleeping – despite Thames Valley Police receiving just six reports of people sleeping rough between July 2014 and February 2016.

Neither has provided substantive evidence that these bans are needed. But one thing is certain – fining homeless people does not tackle the causes of homelessness.

Newcastle City Council’s plans purport to outlaw only “aggressive” begging. But buried within its draft PSPO is a ban on possessing or depositing “any materials used or intended to be used as bedding” in public – effectively banning rough sleeping entirely.

Should this come to fruition, it won’t just criminalise the homeless. Absurdly, it means anyone who buys a duvet in the shops and carries it home will be in breach.

Plans for neighbouring Sunderland are no less inhumane. The council is consulting the public on proposals which would ban the “taking of any items whatsoever from rubbish bins, bags or items clearly left to be disposed of or belonging to another” – like food.

Much like sleeping rough, rummaging through rubbish to stave off hunger is not antisocial behaviour. Take part in the council’s survey and put an end to these plans here.

Community spirit

Community Protection Notices (CPNs) – born from the same Act of Parliament as PSPOs – have also been making headlines recently.

Like PSPOs, CPNs can be imposed simply if a council officer believes an individual’s activity has a detrimental effect on others’ lives, but they can either ban that person from doing the activity – or actually require them to do something else. They don’t just apply to public spaces – they can impose conditions on what you are free to do in your own home.

CPNs have been applied to all sorts of scenarios, from loud crying at home to having a messy garden. They carry fines of up to £100 but, should the issue go to the Magistrates’ Court, the penalty could be as much as £2,500 – or £20,000 for organisations.

The CPN decision-making process isn’t a matter of public record. They too have been used to criminalise rough sleepers – but so far without the public condemnation which has followed the passing of some PSPOs aimed at doing so.

More information on these dangerous Notices can be found here, courtesy of the Manifesto Club.

If you’ve fallen foul of a CPN, we want to hear from you. You can contact Liberty’s Advice & Information team on advice@liberty-human-rights.org.uk

 

Rosie Brighouse

Rosie Brighouse

Liberty
Legal Officer