A furious army champion has accused a drug addict beggar, who tried to con shoppers out of cash by making fake claims to be a forces veteran, of ‘spitting in the face’ of every soldier who has served their country.
Persistent beggar Lee Young held up a cardboard sign in King Street, South Shields, making a plea for cash to help fund a place to stay, insisting he was a homeless veteran who served with the army from 1981 until 2008.
But not only had the 46-year-old never been a soldier – he also already had accommodation in the town and was receiving employment support benefits.
Young, of Northcote Street, South Shields, admitted a charge of persistent begging and was jailed for one week at South Tyneside Magistrates’ Court yesterday.
Young was handed an absolute discharge for two previous begging offences in King Street on September 10 and 16, while Newcastle City Council successfully obtained an injunction in June banning him from begging in the city.
However, magistrates were told Newcastle City Council had offered Young assisted accommodation, which he had turned down before making the move to the borough, first begging at the Viking Centre in Jarrow before heading to South Shields.
The court heard that Young begged on the streets to help feed a £100-a-day heroin habit.
Ian Driver, chairman of Veterans Response, a not-for-profit group which provides support with training and accommodation for ex-soldiers, blasted Young’s actions.
Mr Driver said: “With what he has done, he has spat in the face of every single soldier, man or woman, who has served their country.
“He has no respect for any of our soldiers.
“By doing what he was doing, he was taking money out of the pockets of genuine army veterans who need help.”
Jeanette Smith, prosecuting, said: “He has been arrested on numerous occasions for begging.
“It has come to the stage where some intervention is needed.
“He is a nuisance for people in King Street and has taken up a lot of resources in terms of police time.
“He was claiming to be ex-army, when he had never been in the army, in order to get money – it was wrong.”
Magistrates were told that Young had refused to comply with the probation service, which had suggested a drug rehabilitation requirement as part of a community order.
Mark Humble, defending, said: “It is quite a sad situation overall.
“At this time of his life he doesn’t want to be doing this sort of thing.
“His lifestyle has led to him begging.
“He is fearful of being set up to fail if he is given a community order.
“He feels he may struggle to keep to appointments and would breach any order quite early.”
Chairman of the magistrates, Rev Glynn Lister, said only custody was justified.
He said: “This is not an offence that appears before the court very often.
“You have wilfully misrepresented your circumstances, which is an aggravating feature.
“Therefore, we find that only a custodial sentence can be justified.”
Young was jailed for one week and ordered to pay a criminal courts charge of £150 and a victim surcharge of £80.