MAGISTRATES have fined the first three people prosecuted under Bolton Council's new bylaw designed to tackle aggressive begging.

Non of the defendants, who were all described as having no fixed address, turned up at Bolton Magistrates' Court for their hearings and were convicted, in their absence, of failing to comply with a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).

Gemma Hamer, prosecuting, told how, on July 3, 44-year-old Anthony Fitton was seen at traffic lights on Marsden Road. He was approaching motorists carrying a sign stating: "Homeless — not a bad person".

The court heard how Fitton had been warned about his begging on four previous occasions. He was issued with a £100 fixed penalty fine for breaching the PSP0, but did not pay.

On July 15, Lauren Clarke, aged 34, was sitting on the ground in Bridge Street, with a cup in front of her into which members of the public were seen putting money.

Clarke, who had been spoken to about begging on seven previous occasions, was given a £100 fine which she did not pay.

Miss Hamer added that, on the same day, 34-year-old Dameon Brierley was seen sitting on the ground in Newport Street with a cup in front of him, also begging.

He had been warned on 30 previous occasions about his behaviour and did not pay the £100 fixed penalty fine.

In court each of the three defendants was fined £660 and ordered to pay £304 towards prosecution costs plus a £66 victim surcharge.

The cases are the first brought to court by Bolton Council as a result of the new PSPO. A further 39 cases are due to appear before magistrates in coming weeks for various breaches of the order including begging, anti-social behaviour, taking drugs and drinking alcohol in the streets.

READ MORE: 'It's a pointless circle that's not working': Businesses on Bolton's begging ban

Speaking following the first convictions, Bolton Council's executive cabinet member for environmental regulatory services, Cllr Anne Galloway, said: “Everyone has a right to feel safe when they come into Bolton town centre.

“We have a duty of care to the public and the PSPO was introduced to tackle a range of issues including aggressive begging.

“High streets are struggling and whilst we are doing everything we can to encourage more people to come into town, the public have consistently told us that aggressive begging is putting them off shopping and visiting the town centre.

“Taking people to court is a last resort but everyone is fully aware of the new rules – there is signage in place all over the town centre. The individuals who appeared in court have also received advice and dozens of warnings, which they have ignored.

“Street begging is a complex problem. What we know from all of our outreach work is that, in Bolton, the vast majority of beggars are not homeless, and we make sure rough sleepers and those that are vulnerable are offered support.

“Begging is often used to fund addictions to drugs or alcohol but this does not give people the right to intimidate or harass members of the public for money.

“We hope these court cases will be the catalyst for people to get the help they need as well as sending a strong message that we will take action to make our town centre safer for everyone.”