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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Giving out your name

May 24 2009
Do the police work for Camden Council, asks a reader threatened by outreach workers Dear Editor, Two nights ago, a friend and I had a conversation with two outreach workers from Camden which was beyond the pale. What happened was this: before Christmas, a group of us had spent about nine months sleeping under the porch of a church near Oxford Street - not exactly with the permission of the priest, but we had a sympathetic dialogue with him. After Christmas, for various reasons, that group split up and we have ended up in different places, which is a pity, because I was planning to open a squat for all of us. However, two nights ago, two of us had a sort of reunion and as we were in that area, we decided to sleep there that night. We had previously had no contact with outreach workers in that place, as you have to climb a fence to get in and the outreach workers weren't aware of our existence. So we were very surprised when two outreach workers turned up. My friend, who is a veteran, was immediately hostile, but I saw no harm in being friendly: who knows what they might have had on offer. I should have taken my friend's advice. One of the workers was from my hometown, and he and I had quite a friendly conversation. I said, roughly, what my situation was, but decided to give only my first name, as experience has taught me to be careful, especially if you have a number of irons in the fire. You're not sure what might or might not work out, you have to be careful what you say to whom, and this was the first time I'd met this guy. Anyway, things went reasonably well until the end, when the other worker, who had mostly been silent, said that as we hadn't given our names (my friend called himself Mr Noname), they would be back with the police tomorrow night (i.e. last night) to get them. I thought this was incredible. I have got no problem giving my details to the police, but they have no right to give that information to anyone else. Someone I know who sleeps rough but used to be a solicitor told me that the police had no right to give anyone else this information, and that I could ask the outreach workers to step away and give it to the policeman alone. But the problem is that they seemed to think this was an established procedure, so the police have obviously been doing this. I don't think anyone would believe that when they had left, the police would not give the outreach workers the information. The key question would be: how can you check they haven't done so? Until I knew that, I wouldn't believe that they wouldn't do so. The second thing they let slip, is that 'Camden' have a policy of getting the police to 'disrupt' rough sleepers (and remember that this was on private property) when they discover where they are sleeping. I asked what 'disrupt' means, and they explained that it meant the police (and I didn't know the police worked for Camden Council!) woke people and moved them on. Now if the priest had asked for them to do this, it wouldn't be so unreasonable; but I suspect that Camden Council have pressurized him to agree to it. Well, obviously, we didn't sleep there last night, and I told a couple of other people so I don't know whether they did. Anyway, I'd be grateful if you could investigate this and do an article on it. Full name supplied by email Dear Anon, Thank you for your letter, and it arrived just as Jim O'Reilly filed his story on outreach workers and the police. We'd commissioned this story because of rumours that the relationship between the police and outreach workers was getting closer, and we'd heard that some outreach workers - not in Camden - had be told to inform the police if a rough sleeper didn't give their name. If we find more evidence of this, it's a worrying policy for outreach workers to enforce, and we're unsure of the legal status. You or I don't have the right to demand names from anyone else, nor the support of the police should someone refuse. Your letter came too late to get advice on it, but we're talking to a legal expert who'll be able to answer the three questions raised by your letter: do outreach workers have special powers to demand your name or proxy police powers to call in their support if you refuse; do the police have the authority to demand your name based on the request of another civilian, the outreach worker; and, finally, is the information you pass to the police secure from being passed on to third parties. Your letter has raised an important matter, and we hope to have an answer for the June issue. Again, thank you for writing in. Editor