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Praise the unlikely heroes in our midst

THE building in which the children's hearings in Glasgow are held sits on the route of the open-top tourist buses.

There's a stop immediately opposite the hearing rooms and, from our seats behind the table, panel members can see the crowns of visitors as they snap happily at the beautiful architecture to our left while, in front of us, are the city's impoverished and struggling.

Every time I catch the red glint of the double decker in the corner of my eye it strikes me as a perfect vignette for life in a city: the extremes of comfort to struggle, of wealth to poverty.

This duality is particularly stark at the moment: while Glasgow has her Sunday best and bunting out for the arrival of the Commonwealth Games, winking at the visitors, real city life continues, grinding and grasping, underneath.

Of course, not everyone wants to acknowledge the grind, hence the morally corrupt move by a mystery occupier of a building in St Vincent Lane: no one will admit to it but someone installed barriers next to warm air vents where the homeless are known to sleep.

Nothing so startles on a smart city street as the sight of a homeless person crouched or lying or huddled on the pavement. It is not so steep a slope from success to abject failure. While the majority are aware of food banks and benefit cuts and the hardship of a life teetering on the poverty line, a homeless person making free with the air vent of your building is surely a stark reminder. Too stark for some.

I would love to have a conversation with the culprits behind these sloping iron bars, designed to prevent anyone lying down near the air vents, a moat around a concrete castle. Similar to the metal spikes installed at a development in London last month and at a Tesco store, the bars are "defensive architecture" - designed to prevent crime and disorder.

Why would you want to prevent someone in such a dire situation from taking a tiny piece of comfort? These barriers are dehumanising, they treat people like vermin. Are the bar bandits afraid of vandalism? Are they concerned for aesthetics? Do they seek to punish the unfortunate for their own misfortune? Why didn't they just call City Mission? Who knows.

But, from the murk, comes Gary, with the best line you'll hear this week: "I had them off in 20 minutes using a 21mm sprocket."

Some may say "vigilante", I say "superhero". Gary, his sprocket, and three fellow crusaders took the matter into their own hands and removed the bars in the early morning, rendering the iron impotent.

Police Scotland said there had been no complaints about the broken bars and so no action was being taken about Gary's direct action.

From those who spruce up derelict land with flower seed bombs to Angie Zelter, who helped disarm a BAE Hawk Jet that was on its way to attack East Timor, direct action is a way to speed up change when authorities are dragging their feet. (In Glasgow, the city council sent a letter giving the bar botherers seven days to remove them, though who knows how long it would have taken in reality).

Those, like Gary, who engage in non-harmful creative confrontation, are real-life superheroes.

These anti-homeless spikes have been cropping up with increasing regularity across the country but let's hope other businesses take note: punish the poor for their misfortune but there will always be someone waiting to undo your bad deeds.

In a way, we should be grateful to those who set the bars. We need the crass, heartless ratbags to make the rest of us look better, to give the peaceful vigilantes the chance to show they care. After all, without villains, there can be no heroes.

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