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Hell and Halifax

Just as the Licensing Act looks like making Britain’s binge drinking habit worse, the problem is being challenged in a northern city which has seen some of the worst excesses. In Halifax a major campaign has been launched to tackle the local “booze culture and stop yob violence in its tracks”. The Evening Courier, like so many such papers, takes its responsibility to the community seriously and is in touch with the feelings of the average residents of the city.

Highlighting the “drink till you drop” offers and “happy hours” which are now a major marketing tool throughout the country, the paper’s “Win Back the Streets” investigation reveals how binge drinking, especially among young men, has hugely increased the number of assaults and brawls. The Yorkshire city in Calderdale, which it is trying to promote as a tourist attraction, has been shocked at the revelation that violent crime in its centre has risen by 440 per cent in only four years.

The local police force is equally worried and with good reason. In the first part of this year there were twelve serious sexual assaults reported in the centre of Halifax, one of them a male on male rape. Police are convinced that the ready availability of cheap all-inclusive offers in pubs and clubs is behind the frightening rise in violence.

Launching its campaign, which was supported in an Early Day Motion in the House of Commons, The Courier said that it would “champion police efforts to tackle the problem by targeting cheap booze offers and persuading bar managers to charge sensible prices and end the temptation to customers to drink themselves senseless.” There is a real fear that city centres like Halifax’s could become no-go areas if something is not done. The economic threat to many businesses is as real as that of violence to the individual, as more and more people avoid going into the town, especially on weekend evenings.

Police statistics show that the number of crimes in the square kilometre of Halifax centre was 82 for the last eight months of 1997. In the whole of 1999 the figure was 192. But for 2002, the number had soared to 532. By the end of July this year the figure stood at 462 – a huge increase of 60 per cent. If the trend continues, by the end of the year the total of violent recorded crimes will have reached 850 in that one small area alone.

The great majority of these crimes occur on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights when there are abundant cheap booze offers available in the city centre where revellers can pay a few pounds to drink as much as they can.

Calderdale Police, which has responsibility for Halifax, are anxious to curb the problems caused by binge drinking. Chief Inspector Bill Hall, the divisional community safety officer, summed up the situation which faces many communities throughout the country: “If Halifax is known as a cowboy town then it will just get the cowboys coming in.”

The Win Back the Streets Campaign is based on the simple proposition that our town centres are for everyone – in the evening as much as during the day. The Evening Courier provides the rallying cry: “We want action! Action to restore the right of ordinary, decent people to walk unafraid and unmolested by those who drink themselves senseless then want to impose their senselessness on others.” The Campaign proposes “three simple measures to stem the tide of yobbery”:

  • l Town centre pubs and club-owners – all of them – must sit down with the police to agree a “booze truce”, putting a stop to the dirt-cheap booze offers.

  • Courts must support the police fully when yobs are arrested and sentences must reflect the damage to society when town centre violence becomes the norm.

  • Youngsters themselves must learn to have fun without imposing their antics on others who want to share the streets with them.

A bigger problem than heroin

Not far away from Halifax, across the Pennines on the Lancashire coast, Blackpool offers a lesson in how to deal with the problem of drink-fuelled violence.

Police in the famous holiday resort are making real progress in their own campaign to counter the same sort of problems as confronts their colleagues in Calderdale, and in many other towns across the country. Blackpool’s “central zone” had become notorious for riotous behaviour and violence – to such an extent that leaders of the town’s all-important tourist industry feared that the once favourite spot for a family holiday would become a no-go area for visitors. Blackpool police have responded with their own scheme to put an end to cheap booze and inclusive drink offers.

Superintendent Andy Rhodes, Blackpool’s police operations manager said, “When you look at the damage caused by alcohol, it is a far bigger problem than heroin. It is controlled by the fact that there is a huge industry behind it.

“Binge drinking has knock-on effects on domestic violence, drink driving and public disorder and the harmful effect on public services is massive. You only have to go to casualty on a weekend to see the number of people who end up there through alcohol.”

Superintendent Rhodes added that the majority of licensees were happy to take part in the scheme because many premises were full to capacity at weekends without the help of marketing gimmicks. It was a common complaint among licensees that their bosses in the industry forced them to put on special drink offers in order to win a competitive advantage.

He said that a campaign was now underway in Blackpool in partnership with the town’s Nightsafe Initiative and licensees. This arose from research into the harmful effects of binge drinking. The evidence was overwhelming that linked this with price discounting. Superintendent Rhodes pointed out that there had been a number of cases of wounding in Blackpool where the accused lawyers had put forward the cheap drink promotions as a mitigating factor.

“Someone had twenty vodka shots in an hour because it was a “£10 all you can drink offer’ and he went out and shoved a glass in someone’s face. The defence solicitor said ‘what do you expect when someone has so much to drink?’” Although the defendant was found guilty, the mitigation was taken into account.

Superintendent Rhodes said that the policy to curb cheap booze offers could be enforced using current legislation. The police would need to take evidence which proved that the licensee had acted irresponsibly by selling cheap alcoholic drink and fuelling disorder.

When the Licensing Act of 2003 comes into effect at the beginning of 2005, police will have the powers to close premises which are considered to be causing problems. The jury is still out on whether this will do much to stem the tide of problems likely to arise from round the clock opening times.

Home Office report

A Home Office report earlier this year emphasised the clear links between the booze culture prevalent in so many of our communities and violent crime. It says: “Research on alcohol and violent crime has consistently shown that a high proportion of violent crime (50 per cent to 80 per cent), including assault, rape and homicide, is committed by intoxicated persons.

“Studies of violent offenders have found them much more likely to be heavy drinkers.

“Some studies have shown that alcohol consumption by young men increases the likelihood that the behaviour of others will be seen as insulting or challenging, and that alcohol increases the tendency of male drinkers to project aggression on to others and respond to imagined hostile behaviour more aggressively as a result.”

We are grateful to the editor of the Halifax Evening Courier for his kind permission to reprint the photographs from his newspaper

Facts

  • Around 125,000 people suffer facial injuries in violent circumstances each year in Britain
  • In the majority of cases, either the victim or the attackers had been boozing.
  • There are about 5,000 “glassings” each year, in which a smashed beer glass is used as a weapon.
  • Two out of five people in this country aged between 18 and 24 are classified as “binge drinkers” – the men among them consuming in excess of eight units a night and women more than six.

The Early Day Motion put down by Alice Mahon, Member for Halifax, and signed by over fifty MPs

That this House congratulates the Halifax Evening Courier on its campaign to raise awareness of the way cheap alcohol promotions by pubs and clubs encourages binge drinking by growing numbers of young people; believes such binge drinking disinhibits and leads to a spectrum of anti-social behaviour ranging from yobbism and vandalism to serious violence; notes that in Halifax there is a proven link to a rise in rape cases; realises Halifax is not unique in suffering from the booze culture as other towns and city centres have become no-go areas for ordinary people after dark; and believes that efforts by police and magistrates, encouraged by the local media, can persuade club and pub operators to be made responsible.