Home Office Crime Prevention minister Norman Baker has written to every chief constable warning against heavy-handed treatment of buskers:
According to the Evening Standard report of 24 July, the minister's letter included this statement:
'This country has a long and proud tradition of street entertainment in our town and city centres. I do not think it appropriate that police should seek to curtail the activities of buskers without good operational reasons.'
As the article explains, Mr Baker's warning came in the wake of the extraordinary day-time arrest and detention for more than six hours of award-winning buskers The King's Parade in Leicester Square on 14th May:
The 1839 legislation used by the Met in this case makes it a potential criminal offence merely for buskers to accept a donation or even give away a free CD (s54(14) Metropolitan Police Act 1839). And even where busking licence schemes operate in London, such as Camden and Hillingdon for example, a licensed busker could still be arrested under the 1839 powers. The fact of having a busking licence does not make the activity legal.
But the police appeared to defend their Leicester Square enforcement in the Standard article, claiming: “Spontaneous, unauthorised, unlicensed street performing causes anti-social behaviour and is a driver of crime.
There is strong evidence that this type of street performing attracts thieves as large crowds gather. There are numerous licensed spots across the West End where street performers can perform in a safe and lawful
In fact, the Home Office confirmed in February this year that it had no data linking busking to crime.
If the Met's prime concern is large crowds, their busking position is confusing. Crowds gather for buskers irrespective of whether or not the buskers are licensed. What the Met seem to be saying is that they want busking only to take place when and where they, and the Heart of London Business Improvement District, wishes.