United Kingdom: Alcohol-related crime goes up despite council crackdown as stores are forced to remove booze from shelves
Portsmouth Council put pressure on retailers to stop selling strong beer
Sales crackdown has infuriated the drinks industry
Alcohol-related violent crime has soared since the scheme kicked off, FoI request reveals
Source: Daily Mail
By Sarah Bridge, Financial Mail on Sunday
5 July 2015
A clampdown on the sale of strong lager and cider, which has infuriated the drinks industry, is failing to quell alcohol-related violence, according to crime figures in one of the areas which pioneered the scheme.
Portsmouth Council introduced its Reducing the Strength campaign in November 2013, putting pressure on retailers to stop selling beers and ciders stronger than 6.5 per cent alcohol by volume (ABV).
The council’s website claims that ‘alcohol-related incidents are down by 80 per cent in one area of the city that was blighted by anti-social behaviour’.
However, figures given by Hampshire police in response to a Freedom of Information request by industry newspaper Off Licence News show that alcohol-related violent crime has soared since the scheme was implemented.
In 2013 there were 754 recorded incidents of violent crimes where the offender was under the influence of alcohol.
But in the following year there were 1,138 cases – an increase of 51 per cent – with the number rising throughout the year as more stores signed up to the scheme.
December 2014 was the worst month for at least three years with 137 incidents, and figures for the first three months of 2015 show that drunken violence is still on the rise.
There was a total of 420 such crimes in January to March this year, compared with 248 in the same period in 2012.
In March there were 161 drink-related violent incidents, compared with just 68 in October 2013 when the scheme was introduced. Meanwhile, the number of cases of public disorder featuring drunkenness remained remarkably steady. There were 424 cases in 2012, 472 in 2013 and 455 in 2014.
More than 100 councils have adopted similar schemes. Retailers in various parts of the country have been told to clear their shelves of lagers and ciders with maximum ABVs of 5.5-6.5 per cent. Sales of wines and spirits – which have ABVs of about 14 per cent and 40 per cent respectively – are not affected by the campaign.
Many retailers insist they were put under pressure to sign up and legal experts warn that traders could face court action for breaking competition and trading laws.
Leading brewers and industry bodies including Fuller’s, Heineken, C&C and the British Beer & Pub Association have written to the European Commission to complain. Some specialist drinks such as Fuller’s Vintage Ales have been banned even though they are not known to be consumed on the streets.
Portsmouth has a population of 200,000 but the scheme was implemented specifically to target 69 street drinkers.
According to the council, those people were responsible for 2,010 crimes in the city in the year to October 2013. The number of street drinkers is now down to 42 as some are receiving medical treatment and several have died. Those remaining committed 1,145 crimes in the year to October 2014.
Rosie Davenport, group editor at Off Licence News, said: ‘Consumers are being denied the beers and ciders they enjoy. Councils have a duty to protect business and not unfairly penalise the majority of consumers.’
Dr Janet Maxwell, director of public health at Portsmouth Council, said the rise in the number of offences could be due to changes in the way police record crime.
She insisted the scheme was not intended to restrict the sale of premium products. ‘Signing up to this scheme is voluntary,’ she said. ‘Whilst we encourage retailers to join based on the positive results we can see it achieve, it is very much their decision.
‘The reason that low-cost, high strength beers, lagers and ciders are the focus of this initiative is due to evidence from liver specialists that it’s these products which are being routinely abused and leading to serious health problems and premature deaths.’
Meanwhile, in Newcastle upon Tyne, retailer Shabir Mohammed, owner of Lifestyle Express, is taking legal action against his local council, saying he lost out on £280,000 after he was banned from selling strong beers and ciders.
A fish and chip shop in Derby was prevented from selling beers above 7 per cent even though there was no link between the premises and alcohol-related disorder. The shop has since successfully appealed.