Drinking laws 'put pressure on police'

COLCHESTER'S police chief has said extra pressure has been placed on his officers by the 24-hour drinking laws.

Elliot Furniss

COLCHESTER'S police chief has said extra pressure has been placed on his officers by the 24-hour drinking laws.

District Commander Chief Inspector Adrian Coombs said officers were now frequently tackling anti-social behaviour and drink-fuelled disorder in the town centre until 4.30am.

Yesterday, the Government admitted that round-the-clock licensing had driven up violent crime in the early hours but insisted the “widespread problems” feared by many had not materialised.

However, Ch Insp Coombs said the impact on Colchester had been considerable, and the main result of the changes, introduced in 2005, was that officers spent more time policing the town centre than ever before.

“Before the change, by 3am the town centre was fairly quiet. By contrast, you now still get a lot of people in the town centre by 4.30am or 5am in the morning. It's an additional pull on my resources,” he said.

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“The big issue is around binge drinking. We need to educate people around the dangers of it.”

Mick Aitchison, the Colchester Division's police licensing officer, said the law change was aimed at creating a “continental European” approach to drinking.

“But we can't change a culture overnight. We do what we can with the resources we have got,” he said.

“It hasn't achieved everything we hoped it would achieve, but it has helped in some areas.”

The national problem has been evident elsewhere in Essex and West Chelmsford MP Simon Burns said the Government must be living in “cloud-cuckoo land” if they were satisfied with change.

He said: “They only need to come to the centre of Chelmsford, on a Friday or Saturday night or visit A&E at Broomfield Hospital to see the impact this law is having on behaviour in the centre of the town and the increase in alcohol related health problems being dealt with at the hospital.”

Speaking yesterday, licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe acknowledged that the law needed “re-balancing” but insisted that the Government was committed to tackling the problems of binge-drinking.

He said: “We think it is a mixed situation where, in certain areas, the police and local authorities are working well together. In other areas, it is not.

“We are not complacent. We know that we need to re-balance the act in favour of better enforcement. We will take whatever action is required to stop binge-drinking and to stop the culture of binge-drinking.”

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