A night on the beat with party patrol

IT WAS nearly 3am before Lewisham's noisy party patrol made it to 120c New Cross Road, south- east London. By then any hint of Christmas spirit had evaporated in its resident, Fraser Bailey. He was desperate.

An incessant bass thumped out of the recording studio party below Mr Bailey's first-floor bedroom, rattling windows and teacups. An impatient group of would-be revellers shuffled around outside in the cold.

'It's like this night after night. You feel the beat and the drums in the structure of the building - in the walls . . . how can I sleep through that? It's got to be stopped,' Mr Bailey said.

John Smith, environmental health officer and Lewisham's noisy party patrol leader, was sympathetic but said there was little he could do. He had asked for the music to be turned down. 'The studio is already under investigation. If I serve another Noise Abatement Notice it might complicate existing proceedings.'

On an average Friday or Saturday night Mr Smith and Constable Martin Lockwood, an officer seconded to the patrol, cruise 70 to 90 miles of Lewisham streets investigating complaints.

At peak times - between 2am and 6am - distraught householders call Lewisham's 24-hour party hotline at the rate of one every 10 minutes. By 6am, when John Smith and PC Lockwood finish, they may have visited as many as 40 addresses.

Although most calls involve little more than a verbal warning, some hosts are less compliant. Excess alcohol, parties and the police can make for a volatile early- morning cocktail. 'There's that first hairy moment when you knock on the door and you don't know whether you will be met by someone with a big smile on their face or a bottle in their hand,' PC Lockwood said.

For this reason the softly-softly approach is preferable, John Smith said. 'Legally we can confiscate the sound equipment, but you try doing that at 5am with a packed house. Mostly, I warn whoever is having the party to turn the music down. If they don't, I serve a notice under . . . the Environmental Protection Act 1990.'

But in recent years a combination of all-night raves and powerful sound equipment has stretched council officers' legal powers to breaking point.

Nationally there are about 20 local authority-run noisy party patrols and MPs are under pressure to step up their punitive armoury. Jim Dowd, MP for Lewisham West, said the Department of the Environment should get house parties in order.

In the new year Mr Dowd is to support a Private Member's Bill seeking to establish a new offence of Night Noise Nuisance, with a minimum fine of pounds 500. 'There has to be a full review of noise law enforcement,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)