Under-18s to be used in alcohol sale 'stings'

Underage youths will be used by police in sting operations to catch shops and pubs which sell alcohol to minors, Home Office minister Hazel Blears confirmed today.

Offending outlets and venues may also be named and shamed as part of a major new campaign to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence.

Ms Blears outlined the crackdown as new Home Office crime figures revealed an 11% increase of recorded violent crime.

Unveiling the strategy at an O'Neill's bar in Islington, London, she said: "Much of this crime is alcohol-related, happens at night or at weekends, with young men the most likely victims.

"Further guidelines and measures to tackle alcohol-related crime and disorder will include a police-led campaign to cut down on underage drinking and the chaotic drink-fuelled scenes often found in our towns and city centres at throwing-out time."

She said that new tactics will include police forces sending under-18s into off-licences, bars or nightclubs to snare any outlets willing to sell them alcohol.

Those vendors found to breach licensing laws could have their details made public on a Monday morning, following weekend test purchase operations.

Ms Blears also confirmed that police and local authorities could join forces to use powers which allow them to close down premises for short periods of time.

"Out-of-control drinking can turn a night out into a nightmare. Seventy per cent of weekend night-time admissions to casualty are due to alcohol and in 50% of violent crimes the attacker is intoxicated," she said.

"The Government is cracking down on irresponsible landlords who encourage binge-drinking, we are going to put an end to no-go city centres - reclaiming them for decent, law-abiding citizens."

Intensive training sessions will also be provided for police and key figures in the drinks and retail industries, to ensure they are informed of all powers available to them to tackle alcohol-related crime.

Sting operations will begin this summer, backed by the Police Standards Unit and the Association of Chief Police Officers, who will co-ordinate the campaign across the country to support other efforts to reduce alcohol-related violence.

The Home Office confirmed that pubs, bars, restaurants, supermarkets and off licences will all be targeted in the new campaign, with individual police forces able to tailor the tactics to target specific problem areas.

Chris Allison, ACPO spokesman on alcohol related offending, said: "Police officers up and down the country are all too familiar with people who drink themselves to a point where they lose not only their inhibitions, but also their self control.

"Communities are sick of the aggressive behaviour, which all too often ensues after excessive drinking.

"Police officers have to wrestle daily with violent alcohol fuelled youths who fight each other, attack innocent people, disturb the peace and resist arrest.

"The evidence of drunken vandalism sprees is there for everyone to see - smashed bus shelters, shattered shop windows and vomit in doorways."

Last month, brewers and licensees were warned that they face tough clampdowns if they fail to tackle alcohol abuse as part of the Government's long awaited alcohol strategy.

The Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England proposes greater exclusion orders and an audit of alcohol treatment.

Alcohol advertising is also under review with the aim of discouraging binge drinking.

Statistics show that four out of 10 men and 22% of women admit to excessive drinking sessions - defined as the consumption of at least one bottle of wine or equivalent in a single sitting.

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, said: "Police having the power for sting operations or test purchasing is nothing new, they have had it for a couple of years.

"What is important here is showing they are serious about using them.

"One of the things we have been calling for is the Government centrally to show they mean business and are serious about tackling alcohol related problems.

"This cannot afford to be a flash in the pan."