‘Humanity Torbay’ is apparently a charitable incorporated organisation, and one that has worthy, if semi literate, aims.
So it would be a little surprising to find Humanity Torbay being described as vigilantes by the local council and told to stop their activities immediately by the police, wouldn’t it?
Yet here we are. The stunningly misnamed ‘Humanity Torbay’ have apparently stuck up posters in parts of Torbay that say this…
And they apparently carried this through, taking photos of people in public spaces. (Wait, it gets worse). Quite how they avoided photographing ‘members of the general public’, while taking photographs of people in public is a mystery. One that might be explained by what follows…
Yes, ‘Humanity Torbay’ was running a social media campaign against begging in Torbay, with the hashtag #fakehomeless. Yes, they put onto facebook and other media photographs of people that they claimed were ‘fake homeless’ and ‘professionally begging’.
Before we get on to how badly this went wrong and how legally bad it is, I’m about to accuse some people of being economical with the actualité, so we should meet them.
Here they are: Susie Colley, (Self proclaimed Lady) Ellie Waugh (founder and chairman(sic)) and Ashley Simms of Humanity Torbay
Mr Ashley Simms told the BBC:
“One thing these people don’t like is being photographed or filmed, so wave gone and done that. We have identified who is genuine with the relevant charities and their names and if they are homeless or not, and five of them of them have told us they won’t go begging anymore if I don’t put their photo up
“Out of the 17 photographed, only two were genuine street homeless.”
‘Identified who is genuine with the relevant charities’? I believe this to be, shall we say, a fib. A huge fib.
No homeless charity would break data protection, let alone collaborate with these vigilantes. Witness the response of People Assisting Torbay’s Homeless – a local homeless charity – who were approached by ‘Humanity Torbay’ about identifying the ‘real homeless’ and quite rightly told them to get stuffed. Now if Mr Sims wants to take me up on this, he is welcome to identify the ‘relevant homeless charities’ that were consulted. But then, of course, ‘Humanity Torbay’ poses as a homeless charity. Perhaps they consulted themselves?
What was the result? Well inevitably, these vigilantes managed to put out on social media a photograph of someone who actually is street homeless, identifying them as ‘fake homeless’ and a professional beggar. The individual was promptly subject to abuse from the fans of ‘Humanity Torbay’.
That, let us be honest, looks a lot like defamation, and harassment. And maybe other offences.
As for taking photos – well, photos in a public place are probably outside privacy law. However, taking photos with menaces? Here is Mr Ashley Simms again:
“Within the last 24 hours, five have agreed to leave town begging if we don’t expose them, WAIT FOR IT, to protect their benefits.”
So, presumably Mr Ashley Simms and his cohorts approached people, took photos of them and told them that they would have their photos put up on social media as ‘fake homeless and professional beggars’ unless they agreed to leave. That sounds a lot like harassment.
Still, the deeply ironically named ‘Humanity Torbay” had a valid concern, didn’t they? The rise in ‘professional beggars’ on the streets of Torbay? Well, no, not according to Devon and Cornwall Police, who said there was no increase in the numbers of professional street beggars in Torbay.
I gather that Ashley Simms and (‘Lady’) Ellie Waugh, at least, are local business people. They also appear to be – and this is an expression of opinion, not actionable in defamation – complete shits.