Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

current issue



Know your DZ

June 06 2010
Our ongoing investigation into the use, and geographical range, of Dispersal Zones In the April issue of The Pavement ('In the zone'), we discovered that increasing numbers of rough sleepers were being given Asbos or dispersal notices for congregating in the piazza of Westminster Cathedral.

Although the police maintained that people could only be dispersed from the piazza if they were behaving 'anti-socially', local homeless groups said rough sleepers were being targeted because local authorities did not want them gathering in the area. "Police come up simply because they're congregating," said Rudi Richardson, from homeless charity Streetlytes. "If one person is drinking and four people aren't, the whole group gets moved on anyway," he said.

Police powers to disperse people in this way were laid out in the Anti-Social Behaviour Act of 2003, mainly to help tackle youth crime. If a group of two people or more gathered in a designated area, behaving in a way likely to cause "harassment, alarm or distress to members of the public", they could be dispersed and banned from returning under threat of criminal charges.

Despite the severity of these measures (the punishment for breaking a dispersal order can be imprisonment and a £2,500 fine), there seems to be some inconsistency and confusion about the way the law is applied. The Pavement spoke to an officer from the Metropolitan Police, who requested that we do not identify him, about the uncertainty surrounding the application of dispersal zones.

"There isn't a defined formula," he said. "It depends on the severity of the situation, the frequency and the impact on the local community." Zones are set up following consultation between police and the council, depending on the perceived level of threat, and could be quickly implemented, he said.

Zones can only remain in place for six months before being reviewed. Nevertheless, some areas of London have had dispersal zones in place for as many as six years, with their licenses being reinstated by the police and the council twice a year.

Local councils and police forces seem to be unsure of how long some dispersal zones are in place and where? For instance, at Westminster Cathedral Piazza, local police believe a zone has been in place there since last Christmas. Yet Westminster council said only two dispersal zones existed in the borough - one on Ebury Bridge and the other on Castle Lane.

Local authorities in London are keen to stress the purpose of dispersal zones is to stop intimidating and anti-social behaviour only, not to prevent rough sleepers from congregating on the street.

PC Marcus King, who runs a year-old dispersal zone in Kensington, told The Pavement: "If people are just congregating, it's not an issue. Dispersal zones are only to stop groups of aggressive beggars and people behaving anti-socially."

PC King added boundaries of the dispersal zone were clearly marked, with maps attached to lamp-posts detailing the conditions of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order.

However, the visibility of dispersal zones is disputed by Tamsin Fulton, a designer working in local government, who has spent a number of years researching the zones and their effects on the community.

"Even local businesses tended not to know about the dispersal zones," she said. "There are virtually no visual clues to the restriction in force." Ms Fulton added: "The crimes themselves are open to interpretation: anti-social behaviour is subjective, and it's that non-explicitness which is the problem, over just what kind of behaviour is unacceptable."

Ms Fulton is working with The Pavement to create an updated map of all of London's dispersal zones, which will be made available online for all of our readers. We hope to build up a picture of how many areas of the capital you can be dispersed from, and what effect this could have on rough sleepers in the city.

If you know of a dispersal zone in your area, you can help us update our map by emailing