‘Fragile and vulnerable’ woman jailed for begging for 50p

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By VIEW editor Brian Pelan

Marie Baker will probably mean nothing to you unless you have a friend or relative who has the same name,

She also meant nothing to me until I read this morning that she had been jailed in England for begging – it was actually for asking for 50p if you need to know the exact amount.

Marie, who is 38 years of age, has been described in various newspaper accounts as ‘fragile and vulnerable’.

Her ‘offence’ happened in Worcester. The judge, who jailed her for five-and-a-half months, expressed his alarm that no lawyer could be found to represent Marie because of problems over legal aid.

District Judge Philip Mackenzie said: “I am disturbed and concerned that Ms Baker attends before me today without the assistance of any public funding or a solicitor.

“I am particularly concerned about that because, on any view, Ms Baker is … a fragile and vulnerable individual and that makes it all the more regrettable that she has not got legal assistance.”

Marie has already served short sentences in jail.

A ‘fragile and vulnerable’ woman does not deserve to be placed behind bars where, no doubt, her mental condition will continue to deteriorate.

Instead, she needs professional support.

The sentencing has since been condemned as a “damning indictment” of the justice system by the Howard League for Penal Reform.

Andrew Neilson, director of campaigns at the legal campaign group, said: “This is an utterly depressing case which highlights how all too often our courts are dealing with failings in social welfare and punishing poverty and vulnerability.

“It is quite simply a damning indictment of our justice system that a woman recognised by the courts as being ‘fragile and vulnerable’, with no legal representation, can be imprisoned for 26 weeks for begging for 50p.”

Sentencing a woman for begging belongs to the Victorian era.

It should have no place in the 21st Century.

If an animal is badly treated – a hue and cry will follow in the press with the perpetrators roundly condemned and justly so

And yet a ‘fragile and vulnerable’ woman can be treated as if her life and expectations are of no worth.

My thoughts are with Marie today.

We should all make our voices heard in opposition.

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