PERHAPS SOMETHING of the marauding, drunken Viking still courses through the ancient city of York, but these days only the brave - or religiously driven - dare interfere with the booze-induced violence that erupts nightly in its notorious city centre thoroughfare, the Micklegate Run.
In February, four preachers warning against the evils of drink were arrested by police for their own safety as crowds spilt from the 18 pubs on to the cobbled street at closing time.
Today, at a meeting of chief constables in York, the city's police will outline drastic measures to curb the public excess that the preachers so dismally failed to dampen. Officers, shocked by figures showing that 40 per cent of arrests in the city involved alcohol, are asking that happy hours be abolished, waiter services introduced, and toughened glass brought in.
The latter measure is designed to stop drinkers smashing tumblers and shoving jagged glass in each other's faces, while it is hoped that the end of happy hour will put a stop to binge consumption and waiter service will reduce the scrum around the bar that so often leads to fighting.
Police say that 97 per cent of all assaults which take place in and around the Micklegate Run are drink-related. But even off Micklegate, drink- related crime does not disappear. There are 200 pubs and restaurants within one square mile of the city centre. Last year, more than 40 per cent of the 7,500 arrests made in the area involved alcohol.
In its attempt to persuade pubs to take on its new proposals York police are claiming a breakthrough. Greenalls Brewery has agreed to a happy hour ban and waiter service as part of its licensing application for a pounds 6m development in Micklegate. It is also prepared to install closed circuit television (CCTV) to spot troublemakers, employ police-trained bouncers and join a pub watch to warn other licensees of trouble.
The police believe they have won over Greenalls with logic. Constable Arthur Swaine, the licensing officer, said: "We persuaded the brewery it will sell more beer if it cuts down on queues at the bar and doesn't encourage binge drinking during happy hours which leads to drunkenness and violence.
"Let's face it, most well-run pubs-cum-cafe bars don't need this [happy hour]... So why not write into the licence that no discounting of alcohol is allowed." He claims rowdiness is scaring off some customers.
But a Greenalls spokeswoman, Rita Bawden, said the brewery did not need much police persuasion. "Henry's Cafe Bar [the new investment] is not intended to appeal to the Micklegate drinking circuit ... it's intended to appeal to a very different clientele."
Another proposal may also help. At today's liquor licensing conference, the Association of Chief Police Officers will be calling on the Government to allow pubs to open 24 hours to help cut drunken violence.
Allan Charlesworth, chairman of the association's liquor licensing committee, says it has been shown that late licences reduce disorder dramatically. He believes alcohol is not the main problem. "It is having large groups of people falling out on to the streets at the same time, all looking for food and taxis. You get major problems when these groups clash.
"Our experience in Liverpool and Manchester during the European football championships in 1996 - when pubs and clubs were open until 4am - was that disorder dropped by up to 40 per cent. We did not get hundreds of people spilling out on to the streets at the same time."
Mr Charlesworth supports the Government's proposals to allow round-the- clock drinking to celebrate the millennium and all subsequent new years.
PC Swaine will argue today that one of society's problems is its failure to educate young people to drink sensibly. He advocates setting up "dry pubs" as a "starting point for young people to see that licensed premises ... don't have to be beer-soaked breeding grounds for violent headbangers".
Convince them of that and we might just have progressed from the Vikings.
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