A JUDGE said he would not jail a former Ulster Defence Regiment soldier for begging because of the “inordinate” cost to the public purse but warned him it his “last chance”.
District Judge Liam McNally was speaking at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Monday to 60-year-old Alex Getty who has been in court a number of times charged with begging on the streets of the town.
In July the judge adjourned sentencing Getty until now after he told him to get help for a scratchcard gambling addiction which fuelled his begging for money from passers-by.
On Monday, Getty came to court with his wife and was wearing jeans and a suit jacket and heard Judge McNally being told the maximum sentence for begging is one month.
The judge said it was too expensive to put him in custody for a month to be released within two weeks.
He told Getty: “I think I have said to you before I don’t want the state to pay an inordinate amount of money to keep you in custody but if you are going to keep on begging I’m going to do it.”
Judge McNally said he will defer sentencing for six months and if there is any re-offending Getty will go to jail for two months - one month for the current begging offence and a month for a suspended sentence for a similar matter.
He told Getty: “If you want to spend Christmas and New Year or 2016 in custody then you carry on begging. No ifs and buts this time, this is your last chance.”
Getty replied: “Thank you Your Honour”.
Getty of Trinity Drive, Ballymoney, had pleaded guilty to a charge of placing himself at Coleraine’s Railway Place in May this year “to beg or gather alms” contrary to the Vagrancy (Ireland) Act 1847
At the previous court a prosecutor said police spoke to a woman in a cafe in Coleraine who was “visibly upset” and didn’t want to leave the premises alone after earlier being confronted by Getty on the street outside who blocked her path and demanded “£10 or £20” from her, and feeling afraid she handed over £10.
Getty later told police he had only asked the woman for a “lend of 50p”.
A defence solicitor previously said Getty has a “long-standing” gambling addiction involving scratchcards and “gets a pound” from people to buy them.
She said he suffers from schizophrenia and was a former member of the UDR and was involved in an “incident”.