Beggars sent onto Edgware Road by gang leaders living in luxury

Organised crime crosses international borders to exploit the Middle Eastern community

“Every day you go on to the street and you are molested by beggars. It has turned into a modern day Fagin’s kitchen.”

On a freezing cold afternoon in sub-zero conditions, a 16-year-old girl is arrested for begging in Edgware Road with her three-month-old baby.

After the two of them are removed from the street, the baby is taken into care and into some much-needed warmth.

But once the necessary questions are asked, the baby is returned to her mother days later – free to continue the daily grind of duping unsuspecting do-gooders into funding an international network of crime.

For local residents, including Jack Gordon whose words opened this article, it is a familiar sight. Women and children pleading for money in Edgware Road has become a daily occurrence.

The story begins in small, rural towns in Romania.

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A steady flow of women are sent over to England with their young children to try their hand at begging.

Renting houses on the outskirts of the capital in towns such as Slough and Ilford, the women and children make the daily commute to Edgware Road.

With an estimated earning potential of �100,000 a year for just one child beggar, it is no surprise that gang leaders behind the operation in Romania have no intention of halting such big business.

“It’s been going on for years and it’s vast in scale,” says Westminster police inspector Michael Wright. “It’s specifically females from Romania.

“They have learnt over the years and changed their costumes. Nowadays they wear headscarves and make themselves look more Arabic so that it is harder for the Arabic community to see that they are, in fact, Romanian.

“The problem of begging is likely to continue. Our efforts are to reduce its impact and make it as tolerable as possible for businesses and residents.”

With Edgware Road well-known for its culture of shisha caf�s and outside seating, the street provides a busy thoroughfare ripe for picking by the beggars.

One shisha caf� manager said: “They wait around the bus stop and come up and beg from the people sitting outside. Most of the people are tourists here so they don’t know that the beggars don’t need the money. It’s a major problem, especially at night and in the summer.”

Operation Golf – a partnership between Metropolitan Police and police in Romania – attempted to crack down on the problem at its source last year. Focusing on a small Romanian town called Tanderei, the investigation traced the journey taken by many of the beggars to London and then back again.

Far from helping impoverished families to survive, it found dozens of suspected gang leaders living in luxury houses in Tanderei, funded by money from begging.

Many suspects were arrested but the operation came to an end last year.

A new initiative between the Metropolitan police and Westminster Council instead targets the other side of the problem by attempting to educate the predominantly Middle Eastern community around Edgware Road in a bid to stop them from funding beggars.

Posters in English and Arabic are to be put up in bus shelters and shisha caf�s to inform people of the scam and the beggars’ attempts to exploit the religious duty of Muslims to be charitable.

But Jack Gordon says it will only work “as part of an integrated campaign in the Middle Eastern community”. “You need an international approach to international crime,” he says. “If you withdraw funding from a successful operation such as Operation Golf and supplant it just with posters, you will be looking at failure.”