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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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In the zone

April 02 2010
Dispersal zones are in use across London, but should they worry you?

Rough sleepers are being issued dispersal notices or Asbos when they congregate within Westminster's Cathedral dispersal zone, despite the borough council previously claiming "aggressive" tactics would not be used.

At a recent meeting of the London Soup Run Forum, Sergeant Richard Bunch, of the Metropolitan Police, said Howick Place near Victoria station was "a problem, with people sleeping there after food is given out." The sergeant said that after coming under increasing pressure from a local residents' group, he had recently served 12 dispersal notices to rough sleepers around Westminster Cathedral Square.

The Pavement reported in last June's issue that Westminster council denied it was attempting to drive rough sleepers away from the cathedral area, saying in a statement: "The Cathedral Piazza is a world-class square, and the Draft Action Plan is aimed at ensuring this is recognised. We have no plans to target rough sleepers in the area in an aggressive way."

Yet on the evidence of recent weeks, rough sleepers who congregate around the cathedral are regularly being given dispersal orders or Asbos.

PC Lee Robinson, an officer from one of Westminster's Safer Neighbourhood Teams, told The Pavement that the dispersal zone was operating around the square/piazza and had been in force since before Christmas. He stressed that the dispersal zone was only in operation against those rough sleepers behaving anti-socially, however.

"People can still come and go around the cathedral, but if they're drinking alcohol they can be dispersed," he said. "Depending on the evidence, we can issue Asbos, but we have no intention of interfering with soup kitchens," said PC Robinson.

Nonetheless, the evidence of those running soup kitchens in the area tends to contradict statements from the police and council. Rudi Richardson, director of soup run charity Streetlytes, said some rough sleepers were being dispersed from the square whether they were drinking alcohol or not. "A couple of the people we engaged weren't doing anything, and hadn't been drinking," he said. "There are two sides to every story. Police come up simply because they're congregating. If one person is drinking and four people aren't, the whole group gets moved on anyway. It's 'birds of a feather flock together' syndrome."

Mr Richardson added: "They don't want us there, and they'll do anything to get rid of us." The Pavement will continue to monitor the use of dispersal zones in Westminster and across London over the next few months, concerned that they can be used to target those on the street.

* We're already talking to Tamsin Fulton, who has worked on mapping dispersal zones in the past. She also designed this DZ symbol (pictured), which we'll be using in our campaign to plot the spread and use of zones.