Teenagers to be banned from drinking in public places

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Under-18s will be banned from drinking in public and the police are to be given new powers to confiscate alcohol found on them, the Government proposed today.

Planned laws would also allow the police to seize alcohol from adults in a public place if they believed the drink was going to be given to an under-aged person. Picnicking families enjoying a bottle of wine are unlikely to be affected.

Under the Home Office plans, teenagers found with alcoholic drink would have to provide their name and address ,and failure to do so could result in a pounds 500 fine.

The move follows growing concern about youngsters who meet in public spaces such as town centres and village greens, get drunk, and cause a nuisance by harassing passers-by and vandalising buildings. The new measures are contained in a Home Office consultation paper, Under-Aged Drinking in Public, which is published today.

At present it is an offence for a person under 18 to buy alcohol, or to consume it on licensed premises, such as a public house.

It is also against the law to sell alcohol to someone under 18. But it is not an offence for someone under 18 to drink in public or in private, and adults can legally buy alcohol for children to consume.

The issue of under-aged drinking was highlighted earlier this week in the row over new high-alcohol designer drinks, which are aimed at young consumers. The makers of the new "alcopop" drink Thickhead, a tangerine- flavoured alcoholic jelly, have agreed to redesign the label on the bottle and make it more obvious that the man featured is over 18.

There has been growing pressure to take action against drunkenness in public, and drinking in public is banned in 33 areas in country, including several cities, such as Coventry. The latest alcohol curfew was introduced in Glasgow last month.

The Home Office proposals would allow the police to seize and destroy alcohol taken from teenagers only if they believed the person had been drinking or was about to consume the alcohol.

The Government had considered making drinking in public by under-aged people a criminal offence, but decided that that would be too draconian a move and would clog up the courts. The Government is also seeking views on whether the police should be allowed to carry out more "test purchase" sting operations, in which an under-aged person is sent into an off licence or bar to see whether the law is being upheld.

Timothy Kirkhope, a Home Office minister, said: "Action is needed to stop drunken young people vandalising property and causing mischief in public places.

"I know that some people find it very distressing and disturbing to see young people drunk in public, especially when they cause trouble.

Under the present law most communities are powerless to prevent this kind of behaviour. Action can only be taken if a law is broken. By this stage, when windows are broken or someone is hurt, it is too late.

"If the police can take alcohol from young people in public we hope that it will stop trouble before it starts."

The Police Federation, which represents the vast bulk of officers in England and Wales, yesterday welcomed the proposals, but said that they were concerned about possible practical difficulties in identifying under- aged drinkers.

The Government will consult the licensed trade, the police, magistrates and other interested parties up to 14 October. The Home Office may use a Private Member's Bill to bring in new laws.