Tue, Nov 23, 2004 - Page 16 News List

Britain beset by drunk yobs

Binge drinking and antisocial behavior are getting worse, authorities say

THE GUARDIAN , LONDON

The American "super-cop" brought in by England's Home Office to cut the country's crime rate warned last night that the nation's binge drinking culture was spiraling out of control and fueling an epidemic of violence outside pubs and clubs that threatened to overwhelm the police.

In his first major interview the former Boston police chief, Paul Evans, described scenes he had witnessed in the early hours of the morning in city centers across Britain as chaos.

"I'm not sure it can get much worse," he said, in response to police fears that new licensing laws allowing 24-hour drinking would lead to increased violence.

As the government prepares to put tackling crime and antisocial behavior at the heart of this week's Queen's Speech, Evans is now considering new proposals from senior police officers for tough new sanctions against violent drinkers.

One measure would see binge drinkers caught fighting in city centers given points on their driving licenses. Another would give antisocial behavior orders to offenders, banning them from high-crime nightspots.

Evans, appointed last September as the head of the Home Office's police standards unit, will launch a "Christmas blitz" next month to crack down on alcohol-related offenses using on-the-spot penalty fines, sting operations on businesses serving under-age drinkers and closure notices on pubs and clubs associated with violence.

"If you're in the business of fighting crime, then you have to be in the business of dealing with the alcohol issue," Evans said. "I have spent an awful lot of Fridays and Saturday nights out there. At 1 or 2 o'clock in the morning these places are chaos.

Government research shows that 44 percent of violent crime is alcohol-related and that 70 percent of hospital admissions on weekends are associated with drinking.

In preparation for the campaign, the Home Office has raised spot fines from ?40 to ?80 for selling alcohol to under-18s, underage drinking itself, disorderly behavior while drunk in a public place and public drunkenness.

The courts were given the power to issue driving bans for non-traffic offenses earlier this year. But Evans has been informed that senior police want beat officers to issue fines much like speeding-tickets, which would attract points on their driving license.

Police officers have complained that on-the-spot fines in themselves do not deter affluent drinkers determined to get into a fight. Other measures under consideration by Evans include a "three strikes and you're out" system in which persistent offenders would receive an automatic anti-social behavior order after a third fixed penalty for an alcohol-related offense.

Evans also revealed that his unit is now targeting 24 towns and inner city areas that account for a quarter of violent crime. The areas range from northern former industrial towns to south coast tourist resorts.

The news comes in advance of today's queen's speech in which the Prime Minister will unveil new measures to crack down on crime. These include curbs on anti-social behavior, organized crime, illegal immigration and drugs -- including plans to force more addicts into detox treatment. New measures to crack down on alcohol-related crime are expected to include sanctions against nightspots consistently associated with violence and under-age drinking as well as drinkers themselves.

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