Drink-fuelled crime on the rise

THE level of violence on or around licensed premises in Suffolk is among the highest in East Anglia, new figures have revealed, sparking fears it will spiral out of control under the new drinking laws.

By Danielle Nuttall

THE level of violence on or around licensed premises in Suffolk is among the highest in East Anglia, new figures have revealed, sparking fears it will spiral out of control under the new drinking laws.

Statistics released by the Government show Suffolk has a higher rate of violent incidents in connection with licensed premises than Cambridgeshire, Bedfordshire and Norfolk.

During the past three years, the rate of incidents in the county has increased steadily from 808 in 2002-3 to 1,007 in 2004-5.

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As Suffolk prepares for its first weekend under the new licensing laws, which give pubs and clubs longer opening hours and even 24-hour drinking in some cases, concerns have been voiced about the impact on violent crime.

Bury St Edmunds MP David Ruffley said: “On the day that the Government's new late licensing laws come into force it is clear that alcohol-related crime in Suffolk has increased and is continuing to increase.

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“These new House of Commons figures show the madness of the licensing free-for-all. In Suffolk, we already see more alcohol-related crime than Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire or Norfolk.

“Late licensing will mean an explosion in binge-drinking, violent crime and public nuisance.”

The figures were released in response to a parliamentary question by Lib Dem MP for Bath Don Foster, who asked Home Office Minister Hazel Blears for a breakdown of the rates in each police area.

They show in each of the years 2002-3, 2003-4 and 2004-5, the number of violent incidents in connection with licensed premises recorded in Suffolk was 808, 993 and 1,007 respectively.

Meanwhile, in Bedfordshire it was 693, 762 and 849, Cambridgeshire 584, 750 and 753 and in Norfolk 521 in 2002-3 and 540 in 2003-4. Figures were not available for 2004-5 in Norfolk.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said: “Our latest performance figures (Apr- Sept 05) show that violent crime in the county has fallen, following a sustained effort by Suffolk Constabulary to target unruly behaviour in public places.

“We will continue to work closely with local authorities to monitor licensees and the activity in and around their premises to ensure that public disorder and nuisance is kept in check.

“Licensees who do not comply with the legislation will be prosecuted by the authorities. We know that a large proportion of violent crime is alcohol related and our actions are directed at preventing and detecting these offences as well as providing a highly-visible reassuring presence in our towns at night.”

Conservative MP Mr Ruffley accused Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott of attempting to cover up the impact of the new licensing laws because the Government has now stopped collecting the alcohol-related violence figures.

“This is nothing more than a cynical and cowardly move to cover up the impact of his new licensing laws,” he said.

“My constituents in Suffolk have now had enough of yob culture and I will do everything I can to make sure these figures continue to be collated so we can see the true impact of these anti-social and irresponsible drink laws.”

A spokesman for the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (ODPM) said: “Following a review and consultation the Home Office decided to delete the sub-measure relating to this Best Value Performance Indicator (BVPI) for police with effect from April 1, 2004, because data judged to be unreliable.

“This is because it requires both the person reporting the offence and the police officer recording it to make a series of subjective judgements. The ODPM carried out a fundamental review of all BVPIs last year and it was decided to delete sub-measures for local authorities with effect from April 1 this year for the same reason.

“The headline indicator (the number of violent crimes per 1,000 of the population) continues to be calculated.”

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