Drink ban party sparks Tube closures and arrests

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The Independent Online

Police arrested 17 people and closed six London Underground stations following chaotic scenes after thousands spent the night partying to mark the last day of drinking on the Tube, British Transport Police said today.

From today an alcohol ban came into effect on the Tube, London buses, Docklands Light Railway and tram services across the capital banning people drinking from - and carrying - open containers of alcohol.

The measure was announced earlier this month by new London mayor Boris Johnson.

But a night that started in a celebratory mood soon turned sour as thousands of revellers poured into London's Tube stations.

Four train drivers and three other London Underground staff were assaulted, one police vehicle was damaged and two officers assaulted and another injured.

A spokesman for British Transport Police said 17 people were arrested for offences such as assault, drunk and disorderly, assault on police, public order-related offences and drug offences.

The Tube stations closed by police were Liverpool Street, Euston, Euston Square, Aldgate, Gloucester Road and Baker Street.

Eyewitnesses said there were nightmarish scenes on trains and in stations as thousands of drunken partygoers began fighting and vomiting as the night drew to a conclusion.

A BTP spokesman said the force ran Operation Rowan, which was centred around policing of the Circle Line because of the planned gathering.

The spokesman said there was a "large amount" of disorder reported to police and "multiple instances" of trains being damaged" leading to them being withdrawn from service.

The spokesman added: "This was an unfortunate end to what should have been a fun event."

Photographer Desmond Fitzgerald, 48, from Croydon, said the noise at Gloucester Road station at 11pm yesterday was "like a rowdy football crowd" and said he feared someone would fall or be pushed into the path of an oncoming train because the platform was packed with people and slippery from gallons of spilled alcohol.

He said: "At first the atmosphere was happy but anarchic, defiant. People had party hats on, they were having a good time, but were so drunk.

"When I got on the train it was worse than rush hour, and with every station it went through more and more heavily drunk people seemed to be getting on.

"Then a fight broke out between about five people, but because we were so tightly packed in it soon spread throughout the carriage and I had to struggle to escape to the next one.

"The atmosphere had really changed by this point. People were ripping off adverts and maps and being sick all over the place.

"It was bad enough for me but if I had been a mother with children or a tourist coming home from a night out in the West End it would have been a nightmare.

"When it pulled in to Embankment people fell out and carried on fighting on the platform. Thankfully police were there, and they handled it very well."

The celebration got under way happily at 8.30pm from Liverpool Street Station amid some confusion due to severe delays operating on the Circle Line following an earlier passenger incident at Edgware Road.

At the start of the evening partygoers of all ages, many in fancy dress, drank and sang in the boisterous, but friendly atmosphere.

One reveller, David Mudkips, 25, a web programmer from Hackney, described the experience on the train as: "Like rush hour but fun. There were people's sweaty armpits in my face but I didn't care because I was drinking."

Frankie Abbott, 21, a student from east London, said: "I'm just going to do this for half an hour. It might be fun to do the whole night but I think it's going to get a bit messy. There are guys drinking from funnels already."

Superintendent Ellie Bird said: "BTP deployed a number of officers with the support of the Metropolitan Police and the City of London Police.

"A number of arrests were made following sporadic outbreaks of disorder. I have no doubt that this 'Last Orders', started with a small number of people keen to have some fun and yet still being considerate of the needs of other passengers, staff and train drivers.

"As we have seen a number of other persons have been disorderly and anti-social in their behaviour. Alcohol has a significant impact on crime and anti social behaviour, not only rendering people more vulnerable but raising levels of aggression.

"Those under the influence of alcohol are more likely to cause disruption to the service through their physical state and conduct.

"We have seen numerous examples this evening of the negative impact of alcohol and antisocial behaviour. It is dangerous for those individuals and others.

"Where appropriate we have taken positive action and a number of arrests have been made."

The Rail Maritime and Transport Union General Secretary Bob Crow said the ban on alcohol on Tube trains was "half-baked" and could put staff at greater danger of assault.

But Mr Johnson said: "I'm determined to improve the safety and security of public transport in London and create a better environment for the millions of Londoners who rely on it. The ban has the full support of the Metropolitan Police and British Transport Police."