Police warn new drinking laws will stretch resources

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More than 1,000 pubs, clubs, supermarkets and shops have been licensed to open for 24 hours and thousands more will stay open until 1am, according to estimates prepared by the Department for Culture, Media and Sport.

One in three of 24-hour licences have been awarded to pubs and clubs, a third to supermarkets and the rest awarded to other outlets, a survey carried out by the department said. A quarter of premises would close at 11pm, 30 per cent by midnight and 25 per cent by 1am, the survey indicated.

The government survey, timed to coincide with the start of the new licensing laws, at midnight last night showed 0.5 per cent of the 190,000 premises had been given 24-hour licences, while 80 per cent of pubs, bars and night clubs planned to close by 1am. A separate survey by the BBC suggested that 60,326 outlets could sell alcohol for longer.

The Government insisted that only a tiny fraction of pubs and clubs would open round the clock even if they had 24-hour licences. The British Beer and Pub Association said finding a pub open 24 hours a day would be "like looking for a needle in a haystack".

But ministers faced fierce attacks from the Conservatives amid warnings of increased crime.

Sir Ian Blair, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, fuelled the row, by warning that police were unhappy about the new law. He said: "We are concerned that our resources will be stretched into hours that we do not want them to be stretched into. I have made clear that I see anybody who wants a drink at four in the morning as a special interest group."

Jan Berry, chairman of the Police Federation, which represents rank and file officers, warned of a "large increase" in alcohol-related arrests. She said: "We believe the inevitable rise in antisocial behaviour will add to the pressure on our members and will put a further drain on already stretched resources.

"We understand that the majority of drinkers will be responsible, but experience dictates that the behaviour of the minority will result in a large increase in alcohol-related disorder and naturally, a rise in the number of arrests."

John Hannett, general secretary of the shopworkers' union Usdaw, called for increased security at all-night supermarkets. "We are concerned that ready availability of cheap alcohol will attract drunks to stores and we will be monitoring this situation very closely to see if our fears are realised," he said.

Professor Ian Gilmore, chairman of the Royal College of Physicians' alcohol committee, said: "The Government has ignored expert advice from around the world that the main drivers of alcohol-fuelled damage are price and availability.

"So we fear that relaxation of licensing laws will lead to more drunkenness, alcohol-related illness and social order problems."

Theresa May, the shadow Culture Secretary, said: "In defending extended licensing hours, the Government promised that the new measures would deliver staggered closing times, more power for local people and a reduction in alcohol-related crime. We now know that none of this is true.

"As 24-hour drinking begins, ministers and their officials are in a complete state of panic. On almost an hourly basis another group voices their opposition or another bad news story for the Government leaks out. Ministers are punch drunk and besieged on all sides."

Ministers have warned that alcohol-related crime figures may increase in the short term. But Charles Clarke, the Home Secretary, insisted: "We are determined to tackle alcohol-related violence and anti-social behaviour in all its forms and crack down on those who encourage it by irresponsible retailing."

Tessa Jowell, the Culture Secretary, added: "From today we have got our priorities right. Yobbish behaviour will be cracked down on and adults will be treated like grown ups."