Gangs fly in and out on 'street begging shifts' - judge issues warning
A judge has said he will take a hard line against professional street beggars who flew to Northern Ireland every six weeks.
Barney McElholm made the pledge at Derry Magistrates Court yesterday when he jailed a 30-year-old mother of seven from Bucharest for two months after she admitted stealing a bottle of vodka from Tesco at Strand Road in Derry last Saturday.
The district judge said he did not believe Florica Crina Ispas was a genuine indigent street beggar as she had claimed following her arrest.
Instead, he said he believed the defendant was "a member of a professional gang of street beggars who could afford to fly into and out of Northern Ireland every six weeks, on a shift basis, to beg".
A police officer told Mr McElholm the defendant was stopped by supermarket staff as she attempted to leave without paying for the bottle of vodka.
He said the defendant had previous convictions for street begging in Belfast last December, January and last month.
Applying for bail, defence solicitor George Copeland said the defendant had no passport but had a visa visiting card which entitled her to travel from Romania to any EU country.
"She instructs that she flew in from Bucharest to Dublin six weeks ago and that she has been living on the streets of Dublin, Belfast and Derry since then.
"She was arrested as she walked through the check-out area while she was speaking on her mobile phone to her children in Romania and she forgot to pay for the vodka", he said.
Mr McElholm said the defendant had similar convictions dating back to last December, yet said she only arrived here six weeks ago.
"I don't believe a single word of what she has said and I'm going to take a tough line in such cases in future. This woman in my view is part of a professional group of people who come here to beg and who then fly out again. They can afford to fly in and fly out again", the judge said.
Mr McElholm said he recently had a meeting with local agencies to discuss the issue of street begging.
"These people are not genuine indigent street beggars. They fly in and out on six weekly shifts," he added.
"These people are doing a great disservice to people who are genuinely homeless.
"They are a professional group coming here to street beg and to take advantage of the generous and good nature of the local people", he said before jailing the defendant for two months.