BEGGARS are being cleared from streets in Middlesbrough.

Only months after Mayor Ray Mallon vowed to rid the streets of beggars, numbers have dropped from 24 to four.

Injunctions and applications for anti-social behaviour orders will be used against persistent offenders, Kath Hierons, anti-social behaviour co-ordinator for the partnership group Safer Middlesbrough, revealed last night.

She said: "What we are hoping for is to eradicate begging from the streets of Middlesbrough."

The partnership, helped by Teesside Homeless Action Group, have established that the majority of those who have been begging in the town centre and around Middlesbrough railway station are not homeless.

Inspector Charlie Bell, of Cleveland police, said police had been targeting suspects for begging and deception, with back-up from the courts.

Mr Mallon said: "This is excellent news and illustrates the determination of the council, the police and our partners to rid the town of this problem.

"There is absolutely no need for anyone to be begging on the streets of Middlesbrough.

"If homeless or destitute, we will help them. If entitled to benefits, they will get help. We will never be complacent.

"Our aim is for beggar-free streets and we will not rest until we achieve this."

Measures used to deter beggars have included increased patrols by police and street wardens, intelligence-gathering, advice leaflets and information packs for those found begging.

The packs include letters warning individuals of prosecution through the courts unless they move on.

Charity boxes are being installed in some town centre stores, where people can give to help the homeless, rather than give money in the street, in case the donations are spent on alcohol or drugs.

Ms Hierons said: "You may think you are helping people who beg on the streets by giving them money, but what you are really doing is helping them continue to destroy their lives."