24-hr drinking backfired, police conference hears

Delegates at Britain’s first police conference aimed at tackling alcohol-fuelled night time violence have heard how the Government’s 24-hour drinking law has backfired.

Garry Shewan, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) told the conference that alcohol-fuelled disorder now lasts throughout the night, leaving police dangerously stretched.

He called for the 2003 Licensing Act which created 24-hour drinking to be reversed.

Mr Shewan said that far from creating a continental-style café culture as promised, 24-hour alcohol licensing has simply allowed people to drink at home for longer before going out.

“The difficulty is they are coming in already drunk”, he said, adding that the sale of cheap alcohol is “a real concern for our young people”.

The Government thought that extending licensing hours would “stop the 11pm or 2am rush”, but this has not been the case, Mr Shewan said.

“The reality is it’s not stopped the rush and sometimes it has pushed the rush back.

“What used to be a late-night problem is sometimes in major cities extended to 16-18 hours and that clearly is a real risk. Bars and clubs are staying open much later and that puts a real strain on police resources.

“It would be far safer if the period of time people drink irresponsibly was reduced”, he added.

The one-day conference in Manchester brought together ten police forces from across the country.

Officers discussed initiatives to tackle the problems of alcohol-related violence exacerbated by longer drinking hours.

“People in Manchester and other towns and cities across the UK want to be able to enjoy a night out in their town centre without the fear of violence”, said Mr Shewan.

“It is an issue that affects the life of people and the economy right across the country.”

In September Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the controversial 24-hour drinking law introduced by his party in 2005 is “not working”.

Mr Brown made the admission during his speech at the Labour Party conference and announced that local authorities would be given “power to ban 24-hour drinking throughout a community in the interests of local people”.

Critics said the move would force the Government to “unpick its own reforms”.

In August Conservative Party leader David Cameron said the availability of cheap alcohol is fuelling crime, and that 24-hour drinking is making the problem worse.

Mr Cameron made the comments after joining police in Hull on a late night patrol to witness the effects of alcohol-related crime.

Last year the Police Federation of England and Wales, which represents rank and file officers, blamed 24-hour drinking for making some towns “like the Wild West”.

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