Banned Big Issue Seller "Is a Gent"
Who's to blame for Luca's limbo?
News that Luca, the Big Issue seller who stands outside Morrison's in the centre of Acton, has been banned from standing on Morrison's property, has been filtering in for the last few weeks.
We decided to try to get to the bottom of what was happening and it soon became clear that there have been complaints about Luca - but finding out what the complaints were and who made them is proving more difficult than getting to the front of the queue in Acton Post Office.
We asked Morrison's to comment. The store manager told us he couldn't comment and that we had to talk to Head Office. A spokesperson there said: "Our local store was contacted by the local community support police. They went into the store and spoke to the store manager. They said they were contacting the Big Issue and asking them to move on the Big Issue seller in Acton.
"Someone also spoke to us about a petition they had against Luca. We told them where to send the petition but we don't know where the petition originates from. They also said they would be in touch with the local Police Community Support team.
"That is all the information I have. Morrison's have had no confrontations with the Big Issue seller. This has all come from the Police Community Support team and the Big Issue."
So the next port of call was the Big Issue Head Office. We spoke to Paul Joseph, Outreach and Distribution Manager for the Big Issue, who told us: "Morrisons have asked [Luca] not to sell on their property, which I believe was a decision made in conjunction with local police. While we support Luca's right to continue selling we don't have any power to change this decison as the pitch is on Morrison's owned land and therefore they have the right to state who can and can't go there. I am pleased by the huge level of the support Luca has from members of the public, but as it is ultimately Morrison's decision as to whether Luca can sell on their property, any endorsements of him are better directed to Morrisons store mangagment."
We then contacted the local Safer Neighbourhood Team who have not yet given us a comment on the matter. Luca, however, was easy to find and very happy to talk about the situation.
"I have been standing in this spot for around 8 or 9 years. I admit I have problems, otherwise I wouldn't be on the street. But now I don't actually have the problems I used to have. Things are much better now. I get my treatments and I also see drug counsellors. I have to see the drug counsellors because there is a court order telling me I have to.
"I get my meds every day at the chemist. They can make me a bit drowsy - so I may look a bit tired at times. But I'm not wasted.
"Everybody knows me here and asks me to look after their dogs, bikes and shopping. I'm given jobs to do - sometimes I do leafleting and I go into the Church Hall once a month and help them set up for club night and put everything away afterwards."
We asked him whether he had been in trouble with the police recently. He said: "Last time the police arrested me for possession was in the middle of last year. I had one small relapse. It's in my interests now to stay clean. The next time I am caught in possession of drugs, I will have to go to prison.
"I've neve committed a crime to support my habit. I never shoplifted or robbed anyone. I get up at 6am every morning and I'm out all day. At the moment I'm staying with someone and I pay him rent.
"I've lived in this country for 15 years. I've never claimed benefit. I just make a living selling magazines and a few other small jobs. I have never committed a crime to support myself, either. At the moment, I am hoping to get my ID papers with the help of my drug counsellors and then find somewhere to live."
The letter from Morrison's which Luca showed me accused him of confrontational behaviour. We asked him about this, and he commented: "I know I'm not perfect and I'm not a saint. I don't like it when people are rude to me. Lots of people ask me to do things for them without saying please or thank you. It goes both ways. What you give is what you get. It doesn't cost anything to be nice to people."
Luca also says his job is made difficult by aggressive drunks, abusive people and kids being nasty. "The store manager says I am confrontational. I have to be - otherwise people are going to walk all over me every day. Someone comes along and gives me mouth - that doesn't help me but I don't have to just stand there and take it."
He has also been accused of helping shoplifters and giving them information about Morrison's security arrangements. About this he said: "Shoplifters do come up to me and ask me if security is 'on' in the store. I always tell them it is. That's not a tip-off. Sometimes shoplifters stand next to me and pretend to chat. That really annoys me. I try to move them on - but I'm not a policeman. If they want to keep hanging around I'm not someone who can move them on."
"The shop manager has asked me in the past to help him with the shoplifters. How can I do that? I've already been attacked 3 times because people thought I was helping the security team. Sometimes I admit I do tell them which way someone ran when they came out of the store but they can't expect me to stop people. I have to walk away from here at the end of the day and sometimes I have to sleep on the street. I'm not paid to do a security job. I already have to watch my back. What am I supposed to do? Give me a uniform, a salary and life insurance."
The letter also stated that people had expressed their disgust with Luca's appearance. To this criticism he replies: "I'm homeless. I don't have a washing machine. I shave as much as I can. I like having long hair. Do people want me to sell the Big Issue wearing a business suit?
"I am insulted by people saying my appearance is 'abhorrent'. Those people know nothing about me. How can they use a word like that? I do my best to keep myself decent.
"I believe Morrison's had a complaint from a charity collecting money in the doorway. I come here every day. I know this pitch isn't mine. But I don't like wandering around outside. I admit I asked a charity collector to move his bucket and then asked the store manager to help. Plenty of charities come along. We sometimes have a coffee and a cigarette together. There is room for charity collectors inside the doorway of Morrison's. Plenty of charities come and collect money here."
" I really don't like standing without my back to the wall. I like to be able to see what's happening and I feel vulnerable standing outside like this."
As we stood talking to Luca, one man asked him to guard his bike and then came and thanked him afterwards. Many people greeted him warmly. Two ladies were particularly pleased to see him. We asked them if they would talk to us, and as they were rushing to get to the bus stop, we accompanied them and talked to them on the way.
Margaret Wilson, 86, told us: "I have known Luca a long time and I have always found him a gentleman. I came here a few weeks ago and couldn't find him. I was upset and went looking for him."
Sheila Thornhill, Margaret's sister, 83, said: "I like him too. He's a lovely man."
Margaret continued: "My daughter lives in Hillingdon and she comes and shops here sometimes. She always asks me if Luca is here and says what a nice chap he is."
I asked the sisters whether they knew about Luca being banned from Morrison's property. Margaret said: "I am surprised at Morrison's. All I can think is that their customers don't understand about what Big Issue sellers stand for. I understand. I always buy the magazine and I think Luca is lovely."
Sgt Danny Williams of South Acton's Safer Neighbourhood Team commented: "Ealing Council and local Police teams have had complaints regarding the Big Issue vendor on The Mount.
"These have come from members of the public and local businesses alike. Both agencies are obliged to investigate and address the issue and as some of the complaints are of a confidential nature we cannot comment any further."
April 16, 2009