BEGGARS and rough sleepers appeared in court dozens of times in County Durham over a five-year period.

A law, which criminalises begging and rough sleeping and created in the early 1800s, sees anyone prosecuted facing a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record.

Figures reveal that between April 2015 and December last year, Durham Constabulary made 61 charges which resulted in court hearings, using the act's two most commonly-used sections.

Of those, 34 were for begging, with the remaining 27 for rough sleeping or being in an enclosed space without permission.

Yet there was only one related court case in Durham between April and December last year.

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Homelessness charity Crisis says the “cruel” Vagrancy Act – which the Housing Secretary six months ago said should be abolished – drives vulnerable people away from support and can keep them on the streets for longer.

Crisis chief executive Jon Sparkes said the charity was encouraged by Mr Jenrick's comments, but is disappointed that the “offensive and counterproductive law” remains in place.

He said: “We all agree that the cruel, unnecessary Vagrancy Act should be scrapped but it’s still being used week in, week out with devastating consequences.

“Fining people who already have next to nothing is pointless and just drives people further away from support, often keeping them on the streets for longer.”

Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick told the House of Commons in February that the act should be "consigned to history".

A Government spokesperson said "no one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live" and it is reconsidering the controversial law.

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