MP voices concern over drink laws

Thursday, 23 November, 2006

POLICE insisted last night there was 'no evidence' to suggest booze-fuelled crime had risen since the introduction of extended drinking hours a year ago today.

The comment came after a Suffolk MP expressed concern that the controversial licensing laws were having a 'devastating' effect on the rate of alcohol-related disorder.

The new laws came into force at midnight a year ago and gave premises up and down the country the right to apply to their local authority to sell alcohol for longer - and in some cases around the clock.

Fears were voiced that the changes would lead to more crimes and put greater pressure on paramedics but this was refuted last night - although ambulance chiefs said they were dealing with a binge drinking 'epidemic'.

Chief Superintendent David McDonnell, head of operations for Suffolk police, said: 'There is no evidence to suggest that the introduction of licensing laws is responsible for any significant increase in late night disorder.

'In Suffolk, tackling late night disorder has been a priority for the constabulary for the last couple of years, and we have experienced considerable success in this area.

'Across the county there has been a greater use of street-issued fixed penalty notices and they are being used as an effective and efficient means of tackling late night crimes.'

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley claimed the situation had worsened since the introduction of the new drinking laws.

'The licensing law seems to have had a devastating effect on the number of people found drunk and disorderly on our streets,' he said.

'The people of Suffolk have had enough of yob culture and they should not have to put up with drunken behaviour spiralling out of control due to this licensing legislation.

'I warned when these late licensing laws came into effect that we would see an explosion in binge drinking, violent crime and public nuisance, and this is a cause for deep concern.'

The number of fixed penalty notices being given to people being found drunk and disorderly rose from 267 in 2004 to 377 in 2005 (41%), although new licensing laws did not come into force until November 23 that year.

Police figures reveal that the number of alcohol related crimes to have taken place in the western area of the county so far this year total more than 1,600.

And the East of England Ambulance Service yesterday warned binge drinking had put a huge strain on paramedics but said the problem had started before the new drinking laws were introduced.

Jason Gillingham, clinical field operations manager, said: 'I think it's fair to say the binge drinking phenomenon and culture is one of the biggest challenges that today's ambulance service faces.

'It could be said it is starting to spiral out of control. But I would not say that is not a direct result of the licensing laws as it was bad before they changed.

'Licensing laws certainly have not helped the situation as we have not had an improvement.

'Alcohol abuse and binge drinking is a 365-day 24-hour a day problem we face. It's not uncommon for every ambulance in Ipswich, Felixstowe and surrounding areas to be committed to an alcohol-related call. I am not exaggerating when I say it is an epidemic.'

Chip Somers, director of Focus 12 - a Bury based drug and alcohol help group - said there had been a steady increase in alcohol abuse over the past ten years, a problem which he believes is getting worse but not necessarily because of the new licensing laws.

'There has been a rise in the number of clients who are referring themselves to us with alcohol problems, and we have also noticed a reduction in the average age of these people,' he said.

'The streets are full of people who are drunk on Friday and Saturday nights - which goes hand in hand with crime - but I think this would have been an issue anyway regardless of the new laws.

'But it is a real problem and I think more Government resources need to be put into addressing the problem.'