September 24 2014 Latest news:
Freddy Mayhew, Senior Reporter
Wednesday, May 7, 2014
Dozens of rough sleepers are blighting a popular shopping centre – with the authorities powerless to stop them.
Groups of homeless men regularly camp out in Stratford Shopping Centre at night, a stone’s throw from the Westfield Stratford City mega mall and busy railway station.
However, because the centre is a public right of way – used by locals to cut through – Newham Council is unable to close it at night, despite complaints of drinking, drug taking and even defecating.
Some of the 60-plus retailers at the centre have also complained their presence affects business, including intimidating shoppers, with a spokesman claiming they were “very aware of the issue”.
One rough sleeper, a father-of-three who gave his name as “JB” and described himself as a British national in his late 30s, said sometimes there was “trouble” and that often their was a “mess” left behind.
Many of the rough sleepers are foreign nationals, often from Eastern European, meaning they have a right to stay in the UK provided their country is signed up to the European Union’s free movement of persons agreement.
JB, who admitted to having stayed at the centre on and off for over a year-and-a-half, said despite the occasional immigration raid officials “never keep us out,” adding: “The next night people come in and go to sleep and it’s OK.” The group are routinely moved on at about 7am so cleaners can get to work.
Earlier this year Newham Council launched a crackdown on rough sleepers in the borough named operation Alabama, in collaboration with police, the UK Border Agency and homeless support agency Thames Reach.
But a spokesman confirmed the council had “no powers to simply move rough sleepers on” and said police powers were limited to actual offences.
They added: “The council follows a process that offers rough sleepers in the mall an opportunity to move on or seek support in finding a way off the streets. We do that by issuing warnings that their behaviour constitutes anti-social behaviour.”
A spokesman for Stratford Shopping Centre said: “The mall is a public highway. However we are doing all we can, working with the London Borough of Newham and the local police, to resolve it.”