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Pic of the week: Beggar Alex vows to stay out of jail

By Kerry McKittrick

This is the face of Alex Getty, a 60-year-old Ballymoney man, who narrowly avoided jail this week under a 168-year-old law.

Mr Getty has been persistently convicted under the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act of 1847 and, on Monday, was handed a two-month suspended sentence by Coleraine District Judge Liam McNally.

For the last few years, Mr Getty has travelled regularly to Coleraine to beg money from passers-by in the street - his favourite haunts being the bus station or Church Street, the town's main shopping area.

He has become well-known, often filmed by youths, with the clips posted on YouTube. He told the Belfast Telegraph that, as he doesn't drink, the money he begged for went towards Lottery scratch cards or tins of cola.

The former UDR private is separated from his wife (although they are still on good terms) and has four grown-up children.

He says he left the Army after five years because of nerves, and having been intimidated out of his home he hasn't worked since. He now lives alone in a flat in Ballymoney. In court, the judge stated he was reluctant to jail Mr Getty because of the cost to the public purse - the maximum sentence for begging being one month.

Instead, Judge McNally has deferred sentencing for six months, handing down a two-month jail term - one month for the recent begging offence and another for a similar matter - making it clear that this was Mr Getty's final warning.

After his court appearance, Mr Getty said: "I am going to do everything I can to make sure I don't go to jail."

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