Blitz planned on drunken violence in town centres

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A national blitz on under-age drinking and alcohol-fuelled disorder - blamed for nearly half of all violent crime - will begin next week, David Blunkett announced yesterday.

A national blitz on under-age drinking and alcohol-fuelled disorder - blamed for nearly half of all violent crime - will begin next week, David Blunkett announced yesterday.

The Home Secretary said extra police would patrol 65 city and town centres that have become notorious for rowdyism on Friday and Saturday nights, while trading standards officers raided pubs and bars suspected of selling drink to under-18s. Police in Sheffield, Liverpool, Blackpool, Basingstoke and the largely rural Welsh county of Powys are among those taking part.

The operation, to be led by the former US police chief Paul Evans, follows a recent warning by Tony Blair that binge drinking was in danger of becoming a "new sort of British disease".

Following sporadic trouble across the country after England's defeats in the European Championship against France and Portugal, Mr Blunkett has also told the Cabinet he is preparing other new action against drink-related violence. Tacking anti-social behaviour - including the damage caused by drunken youths - will be a main theme of the Home Office's five-year anti-crime plan, which will be released next month. It is expected to include a provision to ban repeated drunken troublemakers from licensed premises for three years.

Speaking at a London conference on drugs and crime, Mr Blunkett said concerted action against drunken yobbery would start on 9 July. He said: "We are no longer prepared to tolerate public spaces becoming no-go areas for law-abiding citizens."

During the campaign information will also be collected on cheap drinks promotions, including "happy hours" and "two for one" offers. Extra officers will be on duty to try to nip drunken violence in the bud and to make city centre streets feel safer.

A similar onslaught by the Metropolitan Police has already begun in several parts of the capital, with on-the-spot fines handed out to violent offenders who are then held overnight. Ministers are also studying experiments in Westminster, Romford and Croydon, which have introduced bans on drinking in the streets. Havering Council, which covers Romford, has said street crime has fallen by more than 10 per cent since the ban was introduced.

Ministers are also holding meetings with the alcohol industry to urge it to reconsider promotions that encourage drinkers to consume large amounts in a short time.

Home Office research has found that 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.

Mr Blunkett also announced that a programme which tests offenders for class A drugs will be expanded to cover other drug and alcohol users. Two pilot areas refer them to specialists for treatment.

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