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Honour British Forces hits out after homeless man in Canterbury set on fire while he slept

28 June 2013
by Lowri Stafford
Ashley O'Brien was set on fire while he slept

Ashley O'Brien was set on fire while he slept

A homeless man has fled Canterbury after his sleeping bag was torched - with him inside.

Ashley O’Brien, 24, suffered burns to his leg after a callous passer-by set alight to his bedding as he slept rough in the city.

It was the second attack of its kind on Canterbury's homeless after another rough sleeper was set on fire as he bedded down in a park earlier this year.

He was only saved from serious harm after his brother woke up and doused the flames.

"He was scared and just wanted out of Canterbury..." - charity boss Nathan Fenn

Nathan Fenn, who co-founded the charity Honour British Forces and works with homeless people in the city, says incidents like these are not uncommon.

He said: "Ash relocated to Ramsgate after he was set alight in his sleeping bag. He was scared and just wanted out of Canterbury.

"We've had it a couple of times. A few months ago, there were two Scottish fellas called the Gallagher brothers.

"They'd had a bit to drink and were sleeping in the park and one of them was set alight. Luckily, the other brother woke up and helped him."

Details of the shocking attacks emerged as the council ordered Mr Fenn's charity to stop feeding homeless people in the city centre.

Volunteers have been dishing out free food and clothing to those living on the streets every Sunday for the past nine months.

But the council has now threatened them with legal action if they continue their outreach work in North Lane car park after police received a complaint about anti-social behaviour in the area.

Honour British Forces providing food to homeless in Canterbury

Honour British Forces providing food to homeless in Canterbury

Mr Fenn, 37, accused the council of sweeping the city's homeless problem under the carpet as the tourism season peaks.

He said: "What the council has done is absolutely disgusting. They're banning a service they're not providing. It’s not costing them anything.

"We're not hurting anybody. We pay for our parking ticket, set up out of the way and we leave the area cleaner than it was when we got there.

"Our outreach programme was good enough for the council all through the winter and the spring, but now summer's here and the tourists are coming into Canterbury, they don’t want us here."

Mr Fenn set up the charity with his mother Erica, 57, after an injury cut short his Royal Navy career.

It aims to help ex-servicemen and women and homeless people in general to obtain housing, training and medical help.

Charity co-founder Nathan Fenn has criticised the council

Charity co-founder Nathan Fenn has criticised the council

Mr Fenn said: "These are people who have fallen down on their luck in the past. We’re there to help them, listen to them and give them a friendly shoulder.

"They’re absolutely outraged and shocked about what the council is doing, and rightly so.”

Canterbury City Council spokesman Celia Glynn-Williams said the authority supported the charity's work, but did not consider North Lane car park to be a suitable location.

She said: "The charity has been doing this for some time, but never contacted us to ask for permission, which they should have done before they set up.

"We only became aware of it after we received a complaint about anti-social behaviour. We’re very supportive of their aims and want to work with them to ensure that provision can be maintained.

"There are strong provisions already in place from agencies including Catching Lives and Porchlight, and we want to bring the charity within that network.

"They haven't been banned from operating in Canterbury by any means. We welcome the chance to work with them, and find them a more appropriate place."

Kent Police spokesman Jon Green said: "Canterbury Community Safety Unit (CSU), made up of council, police and other agencies, has asked the charity not to set up in the North Lane car park while they investigate a number of complaints of anti-social behaviour.

"Further enquiries are being made with the possibility of finding a more suitable location."

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