Courtesy Daily Mail
Simon Wright collected up to £300 a day begging
He would then head back to his housing association flat where he would torment the neighbours
Breached an ASBO after his dog spotted out without a muzzle
Mother Sharon Hopkins tells of how he had a good upbringing
‘He turned from the most gorgeous child on the planet to a child from hell.'
By TOM RAWSTORNE
Professional beggar: Simon Wright arrives back at his £300,000 flat in Fulham, after begging on the street in West London
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.
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That he practised this deception for so long does not surprise those who know him. Certainly not those who have the misfortune to live in the same block of apartments and who say their lives have been made a misery by his anti-social behaviour.
I'll have that: Wright would make up to £300 a day from oblivious yet kind-hearted people
Tired? Simon Wright worked a 9-5 shift - just his work didn't involve too much strenuous activity
And not his middle-class family, who sent him to a church school and lavished him with affection, yet say they could do nothing to stop their angelic child going off the rails as a teenager.
‘Simon was brought up with decent family morals,’ his 55-year-old mother Sharon Hopkins, a nurse from Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire, told the Mail this week. ‘He doesn’t have to be a victim all his life. There has been help for him in abundance — but he’s chosen not to take it.’
Born Simon Deakes, his father Peter, a cloth dyer, and mother Sharon split up shortly after his birth in 1976. Soon afterwards, Sharon married betting shop manager Martin Wright, with whom she went on to have two more children, Agnetha and Gareth. Wright took his stepfather’s surname and was raised as his son.
Sharon, who has since divorced Martin and remarried, has not seen her eldest child, a son with whom she says she once had ‘a special bond’, for some six years.
Heartbreak: Sharon Hopkins, the mother of Putney beggar Simon Wright has spoke of how he went off the rails after a good upbringing
Proudly showing off pictures of Wright as a baby and schoolboy, she says: ‘He turned from the most gorgeous child on the planet to a child from hell. As a baby he was so beautiful, everyone said he was too pretty to be a boy. But he went off the rails in his early teens. He ran wild and was always in trouble with the law. He thieved, he begged, he drank and did drugs.’
‘Simon had a lot of potential,’ said her 60-year-old ex-husband. ‘He had a decent upbringing, attended a good church secondary school and he was always well fed and well dressed.
‘We were not struggling financially and never had trouble meeting the bills. He had a pretty good life, he seemed like a happy, normal lad and until he was in his mid-teens he was never a worry to us.’
Mr Wright believes it was the break up of his marriage to Simon’s mother, when Simon was 11, that started the rot. ‘From that moment, Simon’s life spiralled downhill,’ he said.
‘Sharon was living alone with the three children and there was no father figure, no male figurehead. It was just so difficult for Simon while he was coping with adolescence. One moment Simon was happy living at home, then he started playing truant, left school, got in with the wrong crowd and started doing drink and drugs.’
Mr Wright added: ‘I don’t blame his mother for what happened. I don’t blame anyone apart from Simon for the way he has ended up. Simon will always do what Simon wants to do — he is responsible for his own actions.’
Aged 18, Wright became a father after his 16-year-old girlfriend became pregnant. But when his daughter was 15 months old she died of meningitis. In the years that followed, he lived rough and squatted with friends.
In 2000, aged 23, Wright made the local paper after becoming the first person to be prosecuted for breaching a new by-law banning the drinking of alcohol in Nottingham city centre. He was fined £15.
Soon afterwards, he moved from the East Midlands to South Yorkshire, then on to the South-West before ending up in London. His current home, Putney, is an affluent corner of South-West London.
The High Street is a broad thoroughfare that boasts a Marks & Spencer, Pret a Manger and numerous other chains. In the middle sits a busy mainline railway station. Putney Bridge Tube station is nearby.
Over the past couple of years, those making the daily commute into Central London grew used to another feature on the High Street — Simon Wright.
Seated on the ground close to one or other of the stations, he would pester passers-by for cash. Those that refused were often subjected to a volley of abuse or, on occasion, bitten by his dog, a snarling, labrador-sized cross between a boxer and a mastiff.
Back in the good old days: Simon pictured with mum Sharon Hopkins in 1976 for a poster for Nottingham children's Hospital to promote parental involvement
Sweet and innocent: Simon Wright pictured with grandmother in 1976
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.
ride: Sharon Hoskins holds Simon Wright as a baby, and right, Simon as an angelic seven-year-old
This was granted at Wimbledon magistrates’ court on May 14. Under the terms of the order, Wright was banned from begging anywhere in London or from setting foot in his old haunt, Putney, at all. He was also ordered to keep his dog muzzled in public. The order will last for two years and any breach is punishable with up to five years in prison.
While this no-nonsense approach might sound tough on paper, the Mail can reveal that Wright has, apparently, already breached the ASBO and is due back in court next Tuesday.
It is alleged that last week he was observed out and about with his dog unmuzzled. When I approached Wright to talk about this and his previous deception, he was unwilling to comment.
Wearing a black jacket with ‘Security’ emblazoned on the back and clutching a can of lager, he turned the air blue with a string of abuse.
His behaviour comes as little surprise to his neighbours.
‘I had been living here happily since 2000,’ says Egyptian-born Karim Morsy, who occupies the flat below Wright. ‘It is a nice area. But he arrived two-and-a-half years ago and has turned the lives of everyone in the building upside down.’
Morsy adds: ‘He is a terrible neighbour, the neighbour from hell. He is an alcoholic, drinking 24 hours a day. At night, he plays music very loudly, moves furniture around and cuts up wood.
‘My window vibrates because he has speakers the size of a cupboard. I cannot sleep until 4am or 5am and I sleep on the sofa in my lounge because it is too noisy in my bedroom.’
On one occasion, water leaking from Wright’s flat caused the ceiling in Mr Morsy’s flat to collapse, causing £900 worth of damage.
‘His flat is worth at least £300,000 and it costs at least £1,300 a month to rent flats like this round here, but he has got one for free and behaves like this. He is making my life a misery.’
Mr Morsy says that when he has confronted Wright about his behaviour he has been met with foul language and threats of violence.
‘It is not only me,’ he added. ‘He has a problem with the whole building. There is one nice gentleman in his 60s and Wright wrote graffiti on a wall outside calling him a paedophile.’
Better than some: Simon Wright has a flat in this complex in Fulham
These allegations of anti-social behaviour have been raised with Metropolitan, the housing association responsible for the block of flats.
The Mail has seen the minutes of a meeting dated May 10 in which residents recorded a string of complaints about Wright. These included him playing loud music throughout the day, his friends drinking and sleeping in communal hallways, his dog being set on the postman and general concerns about security and safety.
The minutes record how, on Good Friday, people could be heard screaming in the communal hallway during the night. ‘When residents woke up there was blood splattered on the walls and empty whisky bottles,’ the minutes state.
Mr Morsy says that despite the complaints no action has ever been taken against Wright.
‘I am totally fed up,’ said Mr Morsy. ‘The law in this country is too soft.’
Metropolitan confirmed to the Mail that it had received complaints about Wright from his neighbours and was reviewing whether further action needed to be taken.
Just over 150 miles north in Nottinghamshire, Mr Morsy’s sense of exasperation is shared by Wright’s family. His mother had not read of his latest brush with the law and when shown pictures of her son admitted she was ‘amazed’ he was still alive.
‘He is almost 20 years younger than me and yet looks older than I do — but that is down to his lifestyle,’ she said. ‘I tried to help him when he was younger, but he would never listen.
‘I haven’t disowned him. I’d speak to him, I’d help him — I just wouldn’t bring him into my home.’
Not that she needs to.
Because, whatever he says to the contrary, everyone now knows that Simon Wright — and his dog — have a very nice home of their own.