Police have discovered a fake beggar who made £50,000 a year… not to mention living in a £300,000 flat at taxpayers’ expense while pretending to be ‘hungry and homeless’
No wonder his middle-class parents are mortified.
Simon Wright had earned a reputation as a man who put in long hours at the grindstone. In order to earn his annual income of more than £50,000, he would clock in every day at 9am, heading back home a minimum of eight hours later. He would often willingly work weekends, too.
Until last month, that is, when the routine the 37-year-old had stuck to over the past three years was rudely interrupted by the long arm of the law.
For Wright was a professional beggar — and a very successful one at that. Dressed in tatty clothes and accompanied by the obligatory dog-on-a-string, he would take up position on a busy street in one of London’s most affluent suburbs.
His pitch was carefully chosen — next to a NatWest cashpoint and close to a railway station used by thousands of commuters every day.
‘Hungry and homeless,’ read the cardboard sign he carried with him, the message reinforced by the sleeping bag that he wrapped around himself.
But Wright was not homeless and nor should he have been hungry. On good days, he would pick up between £200 and £300 in cash, donated by passers-by concerned by him sleeping rough.
The coins would be changed into notes by staff at the local Greggs the baker. No doubt his benefactors would have been less generous if they had known the truth of his situation. Namely that for the past two years Wright has been living at taxpayers’ expense in a £300,000 housing association flat.
Indeed, the Mail can reveal he’d even been allowed to jump the council waiting list, on which more than 1,000 people currently languish, as part of a scheme launched by Mayor Boris Johnson to eradicate rough sleepers from the streets of London.
Not content with his lucky break, Wright continued to beg, lying about his situation to tug the heart strings of passers-by.
Those who gave money did so because they believed that Wright was homeless.
‘He was there so regularly, every single morning and evening that I thought he really must need help,’ said Hannah Artus, a 26-year-old PR worker from Fulham.
‘Over a year I must have given him £10 — I felt really guilty every time I walked past him and didn’t give him any money.’
But last month it emerged these feelings of guilt were misplaced.
Alerted by members of the public fed up with his constant demands for cash, police decided to probe Wright’s claims of homelessness — and quickly learned he was living in nearby Fulham in a housing association flat.
The first-floor property is a stone’s throw from the Thames in an attractive block whose balconies are decorated with colourful hanging baskets and Union Jack bunting.
By speaking to local shopkeepers, officers were also able to ascertain the scale of his deception, learning that he would sometimes bring in up to £300 in loose change to be converted to notes.
Earlier this year, Wright was charged with fraud and begging. He pleaded guilty and the Crown Prosecution Service requested that the court impose an anti-social behaviour order on him as punishment.