In the County Court at Bristol
Bristol Magistrates’ Courts
26 July 2021
His Honour Judge Ralton
Bristol City Council
- This case has a somewhat tragic history to it. Bristol City Council is the claimant. Sometime ago now it brought an application for injunction orders against Mr Ramon Longbottom. Essentially, the City Council were seeking to use the County Court and its injunctive powers under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to restrain Mr Longbottom from begging on the streets of Bristol.
- There has been an addition to the injunction order against Mr Longbottom, which was to provide a discreet protection to one Laura Andreas. I wish to emphasise that that part of the legal process, and that particular injunction order, is not relevant to today in any way at all.
- There was a committal hearing before me on 13 November of last year. That hearing has to be seen in the context of a number of hearings in which the City Council were concerned that Mr Longbottom was continuing to beg. On 13 November Mr Longbottom appeared before the court. He was represented, as indeed was the City Council, and, to give him credit, Mr Longbottom admitted the breaches and Mr Richardson thereafter spoke up in further mitigation of Mr Longbottom and I have before me the judgment that I gave on 13 November.
- I start at paragraph 7 which I quote from the text:
“This is a very difficult case for the court to deal with. What does the court want to do? It wants Mr Longbottom to comply with this order; that is all. It wants Mr Longbottom not to beg and if the court finds that this order is not obeyed, then it puts in place steps which are coercive to ensure that the order is obeyed. Breaking a court order is a contempt of court.
“This court’s powers though are limited. The court can make no penalty. It can fine Mr Longbottom or sequester his assets, both of which sanctions seems particularly pointless in a case such as this, or it can sentence Mr Longbottom to a period of imprisonment for up to two years, as it has done before.
“At first glance, it would be a fairly straightforward exercise to say Mr Longbottom is back before the court for five breaches, just like the breaches that were before me in July. Why should I not just send him straight back inside? I want Mr Longbottom to know that I am exceedingly tempted to do that because of the way he has flouted the court order today again and again.
“Mr Richardson has spoken up on behalf of Mr Longbottom. Mr Longbottom currently has hostel type accommodation. If he goes into prison he will lose it, albeit I am told by the City Council that arrangements would be made on his release from prison to try to house him swiftly, because he is vulnerable, for health reasons, to COVID-19.
“There is some slight evidence of positive steps being taken by Mr Longbottom by way of making arrangements so that he can sell The Big Issue and trying to deal with his drug addiction and trying to remain within the benefits machinery to have benefits. My concern is that if I send Mr Longbottom straight to prison he will be back to square one on his release, almost entirely balanced by my concern that if I do not send Mr Longbottom to prison he will be back begging on the streets of Bristol within a nanosecond and the City Council will be applying for another warrant. What I have decided to do is to pass a suspended sentence on this occasion.”
- On 11 June of this year the City Council applied for a warrant of arrest. It was granted by Loughridge DDJ on 14 June. The application was supported by a statement from Mr Gareth Liggins, who is the City Council’s Street Intervention Service Project Coordinator. His evidence tells the court that, on three separate occasions, Mr Longbottom was found begging, on 28 April of this year, on 25 May of this year, and on 2 June of this year. It appears that on each occasion Mr Liggins attempted to obtain further information from Mr Longbottom about why he was begging, what was driving him to beg.
- I see that Mr Liggins has sought to provide further assistance to Mr Longbottom, as further explained in Mr Liggins’ statement of 26 July, i.e. today, which is not in support of proving the breach but seeks to set out what is known about Mr Longbottom’s circumstances.
- Unfortunately, the positives, for which there was some small evidence in November of last year, do not appear to exist today. Mr Richardson has spoken in mitigation of Mr Longbottom. I gather that Mr Longbottom is suffering mentally from the breakup with his partner. He has depression. He has mental health issues, albeit no specific evidence has been put before the court.
- It is right that Mr Longbottom has lost his accommodation. He is, to all intents and purposes, homeless, particularly on those occasions where he cannot find a floor or a sofa at a friend’s house. It would appear to be the case that Mr Longbottom is, again, back on heroin. Apparently, there are attempts being made by him to, again, contact Bristol Drugs Project.
- What is positive for Mr Longbottom is that he admits the three breaches and has said so through Mr Richardson and, of course, he deserves credit for that. The question for the court is what to do?
- Almost everything that I said last November remains pertinent today. What this court wanted Mr Longbottom to do was to stop begging. The court appreciates that it is passive begging, as opposed to aggressive begging, but, nonetheless, the court has made the injunction orders that it has made and Mr Longbottom is continuing to flout them.
- The court, especially through myself, has shown a track record of stopping short of committing Mr Longbottom to prison for further spells of custody in the hope that the coercive effect of the suspended sentence, combined with the positive steps that Mr Longbottom appeared to be taking back last November, would result in Mr Longbottom not continuing to street beg and to work with agencies.
- The questions which arise for myself today are, to all intents and purposes, identical to the questions I asked myself in November. In particular, if Mr Longbottom is not imprisoned, what is to stop him within a nanosecond returning to the streets of Bristol today, because he has form for doing just that? This court has tried to use every coercive power it has, short of immediate custody, to stop Mr Longbottom from begging on the streets of Bristol. The court has failed and, notwithstanding everything that Mr Richardson has said today, there is nothing that I can identify as a reason for Mr Longbottom on this occasion to not go to prison.
- I see no reason to be different in sentence on this occasion for the three breaches to the sentence that I applied in November. So, the sentence will be nine months, but after credit for the guilty plea, six months concurrent in respect of all breaches and the sentence for the three breaches will run alongside the now activated suspended sentence. So, Mr Longbottom has a total sentence of six months and, because of the way the prison service works, Mr Longbottom will be released, I am sure, after three at the latest.
- I pass that sentence with regret, but I hope that within prison you may still be able to access the services that you need to help you with your drug addiction and I hope that on release you will be able to move on.