No more fear of the 'eleven o'clockers'

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The Independent Online

Publicans in the coastal town of Millom in south Cumbria always dreaded "chucking out" time. They could bank on a fight most Saturday nights either at 11pm, when most people drifted out, or half an hour later amid the outward procession of those known as "eleven o'clockers" - drinkers who hung around the bar at last orders to order a few extra pints.

Though the idea of 24-hour drinking looked like a recipe for disaster in a town bedevilled by high unemployment and antisocial behaviour since the local ironworks closed in the 1960s, it has been anything but. The new laws, which have resulted in 3am closing times locally, have actually improved the situation by encouraging publicans and police to tighten their pubwatch scheme. Arrests for violent crime fell by 47 per cent last Christmas against 2004 - a statistic that has been attributed directly to the new Act.

A pubwatch scheme, known as "Nightsafe", means any drink-related crime committed in a pub, on the streets, or even in local hospitals, can result in a ban of up to 12-months from every establishment from Millom to Broughton in Furness, seven miles away. "The police have steered us towards being a lot more uncompromising since the new legislation and there's no hiding place around here now," said Andrew Gardner, proprietor of the Station Hotel, Millom's biggest pub.

"Nightsafe", operated by 32 publicans provides Mr Gardner with the names and photographs of every individual on the banned list. In a town of just 7,000 it is hard to go unnoticed. "A banned lad came in here only last night and I had him out, straight away," says Mr Gardner.

Bill Wright, landlord at The Knights pub, said: "The staggered departures have been a transformation."

The town is not entirely crime free - incidents logged in recent months have included hair-pulling, broken windows, spitting, fighting and verbally abusing pub staff - but only one regular was reported to the committee at Mr Wright's pub over Christmas, for losing his temper. He escaped with a letter warning he would be barred next time.

"People criticise the police but they have really gone out of their way to ensure that the new licensing regime has worked around here," said Mr Wright.