'Drunk tanks' trial to tackle binge drinking

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The Independent Online

Binge drinkers will be taken off the streets and placed in special "drunk tanks" to sober up under a new police scheme to crack down on alcohol-related violence.

The aim is to take drunks off the streets before they commit crimes or injure themselves. Half of all violent crime, and 70 per cent of accident and emergency admissions at hospitals on Friday and Saturday nights, are drink-related. Police cells are routinely full at weekends as a result.

Under the new proposals, police will round up suspected drunks and take them to drying-out centres where they will be released only when they have sobered up.

The first drunk tank will open next year in Edinburgh, a city blighted by a particularly high level of stag and hen nights - which fuels the alcohol-related violence.

Lothian and Borders police is in negotiations with the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and the Salvation Army, which is likely to provide the police with on-site assistance.

It is understood that on Friday and Saturday nights police will take people who are viewed as "drunk and incapable" to a drunk tank rather than a police cell. Medical staff will be on site to deal with any health issues. If the person does not commit any offence, they will be released once they have sobered up.

A Lothian and Borders police spokeswoman said: "The police are not the best people to look after those who are drunk and incapable. We don't have the medical expertise and cells are not the safest place they could be." The centre has the full backing of Edinburgh Royal Infirmary's A&E department and the city council.

Drunk tanks are not a new phenomenon but it will be the first in the UK. Many major cities in America, Australia and mainland Europe already have them. Last year a German couple spent their first night as a married couple in separate drunk tanks in Munich after drinking too much during the celebration.

Earlier this year, the Government published its Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy, which highlighted the increase in binge drinking. Special guidance was given to police forces giving them new powers to bar trouble-makers from any licensed premises and to ban under-age drinkers from town centres.

The Home Office is taking a keen interest in the outcome of the trial in Edinburgh.

A Home Office spokesman said: "We are very interested in these schemes, which involve real multi-agency working at a local level.

"We will want to consider the contribution such services can make locally to reducing the harms caused by the misuse of alcohol."