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Charities hit back at police over 'homeless sleeping bags' incident

PUBLISHED: 12:35 25 May 2013 | UPDATED: 15:01 25 May 2013

From left: John Clifftonwith a second homless man who claims to have had his sleeping bag taken and Rita Chadha outside Ilford Police Station

From left: John Clifftonwith a second homless man who claims to have had his sleeping bag taken and Rita Chadha outside Ilford Police Station

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Two charity chiefs have responded to the statement made by Redbridge's borough commander following an Ilford Recorder article on homelessness, accusing police of "perpetuating a stereotype of the homeless".

John Clifton, from the Salvation Army and Rita Chadha, chief executive of the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London (Ramfel), said they were keen to work with police to resolve the issue.

Borough commander Det Ch Supt Sue Williams sent the Recorder the statement last night, questioning some of the issues raised by both charity workers and denying that police officers confiscated sleeping bags and food from homeless people.

Ms Chadha, 39, from the forum in High Road, Ilford, said: “I have no reason to doubt the credibility of those who told me and I find it disheartening and grossly unfair that the Met Police chose to perpetuate a stereotype of the homeless as dangerous and unwanted individuals locally.”

Mr Clifton also said that the issue was that of homeless people, and not street drinkers.

He said: “They are mixing the issues of homeless people and street drinking. Some are the same, but not all and they shouldn’t be tarred with the same brush. The issue is homelessness – not street drinking.”

Ms Chadha said that she contacted the police on Thursday of last week, as well as Redbridge Council, to find out what had happened. Two days later she received a response saying that the police would get back to her.

On Tuesday, she and Mr Clifton visited Ilford Police Station, High Road, Ilford to ask where the sleeping bags were.

She said: “We informed them that we wanted the sleeping bags back and we were told the officer in charge was unavailable and nobody else knew what was going on.

“From being a close, small operation led by only one officer, this seems to have now become a far wider, complicated issue of trust and credibility locally.”

Both she and Mr Clifton have criticised police for taking a long time to respond to their questions.

John Clifton, 26, said: “Why has it taken a week to get a response to this and it’s only when the national press took it up and a number of complaints were made to police that they responded to local partners.

“It would be great to see the partnership that we see at ground level, reflected at a strategic level as well. It’s nice that they said it and I hope it will lead to something significant.”

Mr Clifton said that any operation should have been done in conjunction with both the Salvation Army and Ramfel.

He said: “If the police had worked closer with the Ramfel and the Salvation Army and other partners they [the police] might not be in this situation were there’s a total lack of clarity about what happened.

“Let’s work closer together so that stuff like this does not happen.”

He also said he was concerned about the tactics used, including leaving a note on someone’s property for a week.

“Can the person read? Is that fair notice to dismantle a structure and to dispose of these items? It just seems a haphazard way of dealing with it,” he added. “It’s not a very professional approach to leave a note.”

Ms Chadha also said there was a lack of clarity in the statement issued by the borough commander and if it was a joint operation with the council, a joint statement should have been released.

She said: “The statement is inconsistent in itself and unclear. It states this was a joint operation with the council. If council officers knew about this then a joint statement should have been issued.”

Both are keen to move forward with the police and are calling for closer relationships between their organisations.

Mr Clifton said: “It’s not about causing a fuss. It’s about making stuff better for the people on the street and they don’t deserve to be taken advantage of. These are vulnerable people, so we should look out for them.

“There’s no reason for them to make it up. What are they going to get out of it? At best their sleeping bags back.”

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