Belfast Telegraph

No fine for Ballymoney serial beggar Alec Getty who simply can't change his ways

By Nevin Farrell

The ex-wife of a convicted street beggar has spoken of her sadness that he is unable to break his habit, after he was back in court for a fresh offence.

Alec Getty (61), from Trinity Drive in Ballymoney's Glebeside estate, appeared at Ballymena Magistrates' Court yesterday and admitted begging in one of the town's busiest shopping areas - Church Street - in June.

CCTV camera caught the defendant, who has a string of similar convictions, in the act.

District Judge Des Perry said there was no point fining Getty because he would only be back on the streets begging again. He instead imposed an 18-month conditional discharge.

A prosecutor told the court that while the defendant had begged on Church Street and Bryan Street in the centre of Ballymena, the incidents were being treated as one case.

Defence barrister Michael Smith said that while the incidents were captured on camera, there had been no complaints from the public.

Mr Smith admitted his client had spoken to a few people who gave him money, after which he went into a bookmaker's shop.

The barrister said the defendant had "long-standing gambling problems" and that he had not threatened anyone or caused a nuisance to members of the public while begging.

He did concede, however, that his client had a relevant record for begging in Coleraine.

Getty, an ex-UDR soldier, was prosecuted under an ancient law - the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act of 1847 - which referred to the defendant placing himself in a public place "to beg or gather alms".

Outside court, the beggar said he was glad to have avoided a fine or jail. His former wife Kathy Murphy, who was with him, added that while he had sought help for his gambling addiction, nothing had worked.

"I go into his house every day, I take him his cigarettes and money and buy his food and try and keep tabs on him, but it is not easy with Alec," she explained.

"He goes to Coleraine every day and that is it, and I don't know what he does until he comes back.

"I had trouble with young boys wrecking his house. I chased them. They came in and just trashed the place.

"Alec doesn't drink. I put it up on Facebook that I wanted it stopped."

Asked about her former husband's addiction, she admitted: "He is not stopping. We tried Gamblers Anonymous, but it didn't work. We tried probation, but it didn't work either.

"Unless he wants to stop, that's it, and Alec doesn't want to stop, so it will not stop.

"He is addicted to scratchcards and the bookies, and he will never change now. I would say he will be back in court again in a short space of time.

"Everybody knows Alec. They are always talking about him needing help, but there is nobody coming forward with any help for Alec, and he will not take help.

"He has a free travel pass and gets the bus and the train. He will go to Belfast, but mostly to Coleraine.

"There was a time when Alec was up in court and he was told by a judge that if he was up before him (again) he would be sending him to jail.

"But them boys will not send him to jail because they know that there is nothing they can do for him.

"Sending him to jail is going to make matters worse because they are going to be out more money keeping him in there.

"They just let him tear away and give him a telling-off and that's it.

"I think there should be something done to try and get him to stop. At the end of the day, nobody cares."

Last year an #istandwithalec hashtag sprang up online, with people saying they hoped Getty would not be jailed because of his begging.

In a Belfast Telegraph interview last year, the former UDR man claimed he would avoid pestering passers-by for cash in the future because he was frightened of being sent to prison.

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