On-the-spot fines for 1,800 rowdy drunks

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The Independent Online

More than 1,800 drunken troublemakers have been given on-the-spot fines in four weeks in the drive to curb violence and rowdy behaviour in town and city centres at weekends.

The Government ordered a two-month clampdown on binge-drinking in 92 trouble-spots after Tony Blair said it was in danger of becoming a "new sort of British disease".

The Home Office said that half way through the campaign, 1,869 fixed penalty notices had been issued - 794 for causing harassment, 786 for being drunk and disorderly and 289 for other alcohol-related offences. Alcohol was confiscated from 1,764 people aged under 18 and from 2,553 adults found to be drinking in a "designated area".

Police and trading standards officers who visited nearly 11,000 licensed premises and more than 3,000 off-licences and shops found that 5 per cent had broken the law. "Sting" operations discovered 51 per cent of pubs, clubs and bars were suspected of serving under-18s and 29 per cent of off-licences, including corner shops and supermarkets, were selling alcohol to children. Volunteers aged 13 or 14 were sent to 646 premises under suspicion, where they were told to try to buy beer or alcopops. The Home Office said the campaign had been a "large-scale success".

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, said: "This co-ordinated police blitz up and down the country is already delivering real results in tackling under-age and binge-drinking and alcohol-fuelled disorder.

"These results are a credit to the police forces and their partners - this extra effort over the summer, on top of their existing work, has made a real difference. We are no longer prepared to tolerate our towns and city centres becoming no-go areas on Friday and Saturday nights."

The operation, led by a former US police chief, Paul Evans, has seen extra police drafted into areas with a high numbers of bars over the past month. Trading standards officers have also been collecting information on cheap drinks promotions, such as "happy hours" and "two-for-one" offers.

According to research, alcohol is the cause of 44 per cent of violent crime and 70 per cent of admissions to hospital accident and casualty departments on Friday and Saturday nights. One-in-four people complain that drinkers regularly cause trouble in their areas.

Problem drinking is thought to cost as much as £20bn a year through crime, injuries and lost productivity at work. But David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, said: "While we welcome any measures to tackle the problem of alcohol-related crime, it is going to take more than an eight-week summer blitz to crackdown on these drunken yobs causing chaos in our city centres. The alcohol problem in Britain is totally one of Labour's own creation. They have ignored warnings time and time again. Their record on alcohol-fuelled violence is truly abysmal."

Stephen Green, the Association of Chief Police Officers spokesman and Chief Constable of Nottinghamshire Police, said: "The most disturbing aspect of these figures is the level of premises selling alcohol to under-age people. The police service is determined to bring the full weight of the law down on licensees who act in such an irresponsible manner."

Mark Oaten, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The police need to recognise that, before people even get to pubs and clubs, they are buying alcohol from corner shops and off- licences and should target these outlets too."

The British Beer and Pub Association's Mark Hastings said: "The overwhelming evidence from this campaign is that the vast majority of the 60,000 pubs in the UK are law-abiding businesses, well-managed by responsible licensees and not committing any offences."

Last month, Mr Blunkett said a rise in binge drinking was fuelling a culture of "thuggery and intimidation", with the changing drinking habits of women causing particular concern. He said the number of women drinking over the recommended limit of 21 units per week had risen sharply.