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Over 250 arrested for sleeping rough or begging in Northern Ireland

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In 2018, 60 arrests were made under the Act - the second highest figure of any area of the UK outside of London (stock photo)

In 2018, 60 arrests were made under the Act - the second highest figure of any area of the UK outside of London (stock photo)

In 2018, 60 arrests were made under the Act - the second highest figure of any area of the UK outside of London (stock photo)

More than 250 arrests have been made in Northern Ireland as a result of sleeping rough or begging, it has been revealed.

Figures released to the homeless charity Crisis have been branded "nothing short of a disgrace" by SDLP councillor Paul McCusker, who works with the homeless.

They show 258 arrests were made in Northern Ireland under the Vagrancy Act over the last five years.

In 2018, 60 arrests were made under the Act - the second highest figure of any area of the UK outside of London.

The previous year, 45 arrests were made, followed by 63 in 2016. There were 35 arrests in 2015 and 55 in 2014.

Oldpark councillor Mr McCusker said he will write to the Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey to ask what plans she has to scrap the Act.

The Department for Communities said it was a matter for the Department for Justice.

Mr McCusker said: "It must be a source of shame that people in our society are criminalised for falling on hard times. We need to treat people with dignity and respect, giving them a hand up as opposed to kicking them when they are down."

Chief Superintendent Simon Walls said the PSNI consider a number of options before arrest, including arresting a person for begging. "Police are conscious that issues of begging and rough sleeping are challenging. When any individual is arrested for begging, or any offence, they are treated with dignity and respect."

Belfast Telegraph