Ballymoney rallies behind jail threat old soldier
Support grows for gambling addict ex-UDR man convicted of begging
People in Ballymoney have flocked to support an ex-UDR man who turned to begging on the streets for money to feed his Lottery scratchcard addiction.
Following the Belfast Telegraph's story of 60-year-old Alec Getty's latest court appearance for vagrancy, there was a huge public reaction.
An #istandwithalec hashtag has been set up on Facebook, and Ballymoney Ulster Unionist councillor Darryl Wilson said there had been an outpouring of sympathy for Mr Getty.
Mr Wilson added: "I am quite annoyed that a jail sentence is being suggested for a local ex-serviceman who has a gambling addiction and mental health issues.
"More should be done to assist those who served their country rather than attempting to lock away those who we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to."
Mr Wilson said he had been in touch with the Royal British Legion to see if it could help.
He also contacted ex-serviceman and newly co-opted Ulster Unionist Party MLA Andy Allen about the matter.
"We should be trying to help people with problems like this, especially ex-servicemen," Mr Wilson said.
"He was in the UDR through a tempestuous time in our country's history.
"Alec is harmless and, despite what was said in court, he never asks people for more than 10 or 20 pence, maybe a pound at the most. I would like to see him getting help rather than being put on the scrap heap through jail, and I think that would be echoed by the vast majority of people in Ballymoney. He is loved my many people and most see no harm in him."
Mr Getty is believed to be the only person repeatedly convicted of begging in recent years in Northern Ireland under a 168-year-old vagrancy law.
In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph this week, he claimed he would no longer ask passers-by for cash because he feared going to jail.
The former full-time private in the UDR will turn 61 this Sunday.
He was intimidated out of his home because of a threat while doing the job during the Troubles. Although he continued in the role for another five years after the warning, he left because his "nerves were bad".
He has not worked since, and in recent years an addiction to buying scratchcards sent him into a spiral that ended with him resorting to asking for money on the street.
Although convicted of begging several times down the years, he is not a down-and-out - he lives alone in a modest ground-floor flat in a two-storey block in the Glebeside estate in Ballymoney.
For several years - almost like a day job - he travelled the eight miles to Coleraine where he was a regular face on the streets, particularly around the busy railway/bus station, before returning home in the evening.
There have also been recent reports of him begging in Ballymena.
Although some people see him as a relatively harmless figure whose requests for small amounts of cash from passers-by can easily be dismissed, for others his begging has been a problem.
Previous court cases heard how some children were frightened of him, and in one incident a woman had to be rescued from a cafe in Coleraine after being scared into taking refuge from him after he allegedly forced her to hand over a tenner.
Earlier this week Coleraine District Judge Liam McNally, who has dealt with Mr Getty several times, said he would not jail him for begging because of the "inordinate" cost to the public purse, but he also warned him it was his "last chance".