When a homeless person is a victim of crime, they have an uphill struggle for justice. That’s according to homeless advocate Alice Leahy on Liveline. She was referring to the actions of two former solicitors, Keith Flynn and Lyndsey Clarke, who were jailed for defrauding banks of almost €400,000. Part of the scam involved “buying” PPS numbers from homeless people. Joe teased out the issues with Alice and former governor of Mountjoy Prison, John Lonergan.
Married couple Flynn and Clarke are currently serving prison sentences of four and two years respectively for their crimes. Joe ran through the numbers for the benefit of listeners not familiar with the case, referencing Noel Baker’s reporting in The Examiner:
“60 false IDs. They preyed on 8 homeless people and bought their PPS numbers, that was, as Noel Baker pointed out, the garden where all their other fraud flourished from: those PPS numbers they robbed or they bought from homeless individuals. 80 bank accounts, they robbed 400 grand. Again, the argument is, ‘it’s a victimless crime, they ripped off the banks.’ 40 driving licences, 20 fake. I don’t know how you can get 20 real driving licences – how do you get them? 19 ATM cards, 16 Credit Union cards.”
It was also reported that Mr Flynn had secured a job cooking for prison staff while he was still on remand and that he continues in this role following sentencing. This and the impact of identity theft on the 8 homeless people formed the basis of a lively discussion between Joe, Alice and John. William, a former prison inmate also spoke about his experiences and shared his views on how jobs are assigned to prisoners.
Alice Leahy said she was shocked at reports of the case, especially where it concerned the so-called ‘buying’ of PPS numbers from vulnerable people. She’s of the view that a PPS number is a precious commodity, especially if you are homeless:
“We all have our PPS number; but for people who are homeless, many of them, it’s the only possession they have. For many of them to get even a basic service, they have to produce their PPS number.”
Alice says that her homeless organisation doesn’t generally ask service users for a PPS number, but that it does come up when people want help with accessing other services:
“They sometimes come to us to know would we write a letter to get a service, if they’re trying to get accommodation or whatever. They’re very surprised when we say, ‘We don’t keep your PPS number’, because we don’t keep any personal information on people.”
People who are homeless are subject to a lot of prejudice, Alice says, and any doubts about their identity can undermine their confidence further:
“Many of the people we meet are extremely honest and won’t even go to get the service they are entitled to or look for the money they are entitled to. But many then when they do go to get something, they are judged because they are homeless and they are seen as not being trustworthy, which is absolutely appalling. Then if they’ve lost their PPS number, are they going to be believed?”
Former prison governor John Lonergan agreed with Alice that a great wrong had been done to the homeless people whose PPS numbers had been “bought”, and he added that all people, once incarcerated, should be treated fairly by prison staff:
“There’s nobody I admire more than Alice Leahy. An absolute legend. And of course she’s dead right in relation to having a voice for the homeless. The crimes they committed, the exploitation of the homeless was despicable. There’s no softness on my part in relation to the crimes those two people committed. My argument always was, and I put this into practice as much as possible, once they came in the gate of the prison, though, judgement by prison staff and by prison authorities should cease.”
Crime impacts homeless people severely, Alice says. Some are reluctant to report a crime if they’ve had past encounters with the Gardaí. Alice says vulnerable people are badly equipped to get justice and she thinks the opposite is true of privileged perpetrators:
“They don’t end up in prison – many people from backgrounds like that – because they can afford to have the best solicitors in the land, the best of legal aid and people to speak up for them. But for many of the people who are homeless and the people like those people who were desperately exploited, they very often have nobody to speak up for them.”
Joe raises questions about perceptions of fairness, privilege and justice and Alice and John share more of their extensive experience with homeless people and the prison service in the full version of the conversation, which you can listen back to here.
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