Mixed reaction to social media photograph that provoked a storm of controversy

Photo of these men asleep on benches near the town centre provoked a storm when it was published to

Photo of these men asleep on benches near the town centre provoked a storm when it was published to social media at the weekend - Credit: Archant

A photograph posted to social media over the weekend of three men sleeping on public benches near to Wisbech town centre has provoked a storm of controversy.

Many of the social media comments are critical of the police for not enforcing stricter controls of drinking in public places but a sizeable number called for a more conciliatory approach.

“They aren’t hurting anyone are they/” said one woman. “You never know one day this could be you or someone you love.”

However another woman said that was the wrong response “and there’s no way I want my kids seeing this thinking its normal.”

Another said: “But what if they have no home, no job, no money and the only thing that numbs the pain is the strongest beer/cider they can afford which makes them sleep so they don’t have to think about how awful their lives are.

“Things have to be pretty bad to come to this.

“I have fallen asleep on a bench myself at 4am after a club but in the 80’s when no one had mobile phones with cameras so my antics weren’t reported on the internet. “It’s a reflection of today’s society with the haves and have nots”.

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One other woman felt they should “go somewhere where children can’t see it.

“It is a disgrace. This is a pubic place after all how would like it if these came and sat on your lawns?”

One other was concerned that some responses were “so judgemental; these poor individuals need support and help.

“You have no idea about their background or what leads them to be in this position. “You cannot choose your parents nor can you choose whether you experience, trauma, sexual abuse, neglect, or abuse.

“Most individuals who experience homelessness have experienced some kind of trauma so be kind people and help and don’t ridicule.”

A different view was offered by a parent who said she “had to wait at the Old Market Bridge the other week and myself and my two young daughters were subjected to one of these drunks urinating up the wall”.

Although another felt we were “too quick to get behind the lens at other people’s expense.

“You don’t know the adversity some are facing. No one wants to end up in this position but certain occurrences and happenings in life send people down this path.

“It is sad that someone get their kicks taking photos of someone less fortunate than themselves.”

Another mother, however, felt “it is so sad. I don’t want my children seeing that.

“My son asks me one time why the people sleep on the floor? “

She wondered how she could explain it.

One man said that at 7.30am recently, in broad day light, he saw “a bloke with his pants down pooping in the flower beds in Castle gardens.”

He was tempted to make a citizen’s arrest.

Another questioned “what has happened to this town and why are they not being arrested for being drunk and disorderly?”

David Patrick, a candidate in the forthcoming by election for Walsoken ward of the town council, said it seems as though a petition handed to Fenland Council last year in respect of drinking in public was not being responded to in the way he felt it should be.

One other poster said that last Tuesday, at around 7pm, “a drunken English guy was lying in the road near the taxi ranks on the Horsefair.

“I had to drag him up from the floor and get him on the footpath. Eventually I got him to go on his way. Two days later I walked past Octavia gardens about midday and there was another drunk sleeping it off in there.

“It is getting worse not better.”

Eighteen months ago Wisbech was made a Home Office local alcohol action area (LAAA) in a bid to tackle alcohol-related anti-social behaviour.

A 13-point Wisbech alcohol project plan was drawn up by Fenland District Council through the Wisbech Alcohol Partnership (WAP).

It included four alcohol-related public spaces protection orders (PSPO’s) covering parts of the town. These came into force last October.

Police have since reported times when they have disposed of alcohol and “persons provided with education and prevention advice”.

Patrols have been stepped up in problem areas. Street drinkers have been given advice on how to seek treatment and a multi-lingual recovery worker has been recruited.

Earlier this year Councillor David Oliver, Fenland District Council’s cabinet member for community safety and chairman of the Fenland Community Safety Partnership, said: “A lot has been happening to tackle street drinking issues in Wisbech since our successful bid to become a Local Alcohol Action Area.

“Through the Wisbech Alcohol Partnership, we have been working closely with the police, partner agencies, community organisations and residents to address alcohol misuse and alcohol-related antisocial behaviour. We have taken a number of proactive steps and I’m pleased to say we are making steady and noticeable progress.

“The work has included the implementation of a tougher enforcement regime to address residents’ street drinking concerns, alongside efforts to engage with street drinkers and offer them ongoing support which is vital to alleviate the issues long-term.

“We understand the impact these issues have on the local community, and on those who are alcohol dependent, which is why we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure people are able to feel safe and enjoy Wisbech, and also to get the help they need.”

Funding from the Government’s Controlling Migration Fund enabled two dedicated street drinking outreach workers to be recruited to speak to street drinkers in Wisbech and mitigate the impact of alcohol misuse on local people.