Tonic wine blamed for 'ruining lives': Councillor urges monks to curb sales of their beverage in Scotland. John Arlidge reports

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The Independent Online
IT IS nicknamed 'Buckie' but it tastes like Vimto. Shopkeepers sell it as a tonic and the elderly praise its life-giving qualities. But now, more than 100 years after monks in Devon began making Buckfast, the wine has been blamed for ruining the lives of the people of Scotland.

More than half of the annual production of the 15 per cent proof 'pick-me-up' is consumed north of the border. People in Lanark, where cheap, fortified wines are often mixed with high- alcohol lager, have a particular taste for the syrupy vintage.

In the former mining and steel- making towns east of Glasgow, Buckfast has been blamed for encouraging crime and exacerbating the serious problems of alcoholism. Lawyers describe it as the 'bottle of 30 days' after the sentences handed down to drunks, and health officials rubbish its 'tonic wine' label.

Now, one local councillor has written to the monks at Buckfast Abbey near Ashburton, urging them to curb sales in the area.

In a letter to Fr Richard Rutter, head of Buckfast production, Richard Thomson, director of housing at Motherwell District Council, warned of 'the serious problems affecting families and individuals as the result of the sale of Buckfast'. Lives 'have been ruined and destroyed through the misuse of your product', he said.

Limiting supplies north of the border would, he acknowledged, harm 'a commercial business'. But, he said: 'I have no doubt that you have a concern for the welfare of society by the very nature of your 'calling' and I would appeal to your conscience to consider my request.'

Fr Richard has not replied to Mr Thomson's letter and has declined to comment on his claims. But Aloysius Joyce, a spokesman for Chandler Buckfast, the wine's London-based distributors, dismissed the criticisms as 'predictable and uninformed'. Buckfast, he said, was being used as 'a scapegoat for a multitude of general problems'.

He said the wine was sold throughout the United Kingdom but 'the only area that reports its abuse is a small part of Scotland. Are there perhaps some special problems in the area?'

(Photograph omitted)