A VICAR at an Oxford church is backing eviction notices being issued to rough sleepers after they left tents burnt out and needles strewn around the churchyard.

Rev Canon Dr Andrew Bunch threatened rough sleepers with legal action in 2015 after they set up camp in St Giles churchyard.

Now he is being forced to take the same course of action after the homeless returned and set up seven tents.

Oxford Mail:

The reverend’s intervention follows gates being locked at St Mary and St John Church in Cowley Road because it was being used by drug dealers.

Dr Bunch said: “One of the problems we had earlier is people having fires and tents being burnt out, people urinating in the churchyard, rubbish strewn around and needles left.”

The reverend said people had been sleeping in St Giles churchyard for many years on and off.

He added: “We have asked them to clean up their act – there is a problem with needles being left in the churchyard.

“Problems arise when you get too many people in the churchyard and they are not respecting the area where they are camped.”

ALSO READ: Vicar shuts off Cowley Road church after 'brazen drug dealing'

Father Philip Ritchie of St Mary and St John Church has taken the decision to padlock its gates after being troubled by drug dealers and antisocial behaviour in its grounds.

He said the decision to block the entrances to the church grounds via Cowley Road, Magdalen Road and Leopold Street had been made after ‘long consultation’ with police and the city council.

Dr Bunch has not yet confirmed that eviction notices have been issued.

Oxford Mail: Revd Canon Dr Andrew Bunch at St Giles Church in Oxford. Picture: Denis Kennedy

But in 2015 after rough sleepers refused to leave the churchyard he handed them letters threatening a court order to evict them and they left shortly afterwards.

Dr Bunch said at the time that rough sleepers were moving tombstones around in the churchyard to weigh down their shelters.

Saint Giles was a seventh century abbot and the patron saint of beggars. The church has worked with people who are homeless for many years.

It hosts the Gatehouse charity in its parish rooms, and provides the garden courtyard, in which homeless people are welcome. In January last year Dr Bunch led worshippers on a trail to visit homelessness services.

There has been an increase in rough sleeping and homelessness agencies and local authorities are working to combat the problem. Earlier this month a hub opened at New Road Baptist Church to help the city council reduce rough sleeping this winter. It has been opened as a space for the St Mungo’s outreach team to assess the needs of rough sleepers.