Fines for drunken women triple

ON-the-spot fines for drunken females have almost trebled in Suffolk over the past three years, with warnings of worse to come unless radical changes are made.

Colin Adwent

ON-the-spot fines for drunken females have almost trebled in Suffolk over the past three years, with warnings of worse to come unless radical changes are made.

Since the licensing laws were relaxed in November 2005 to allow longer drinking hours there has been an explosion in fixed penalty notices being handed out to women in the county.

During the 12 months from April 1, 2007 to March 31 last year Suffolk police gave out 407 fines to females - 52 of whom were under the age of 18.

This compares with 141 on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour from April 1, 2005 to March 31, 2006, none of which were to girls aged 17 or below.

Among the offences for which a fixed penalty can be given out are being drunk in the street, damaging property and being abusive.

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The figures emerged in answer to a Freedom of Information request to Suffolk Police.

Officers say the surge is a result of how nightlife in town centres has grown over the years and a culture of enforcement rather than tackling the cause of alcohol-related problems by other means than policing.

Simon Reed, vice-chairman of the National Police Federation of England and Wales, believes the rise will continue throughout the country.

He said: “The trend is upwards in fixed penalty notices for everyone. We have no reason to doubt that they will continue to increase across the board for all groups.

“Without doubt we have seen an increase in the disorderly behaviour of females who go into a town centre of an evening. We are seeing behaviour in females the like of which we have never seen before.

“The extension of the licensing hours with our drinking culture was probably the worst thing that could happen.”

The figures in Suffolk mirror the country as a whole, which has reportedly seen more than 31,700 on-the-spot fines of �80 given to troublesome women from April 2007 to March last year. This compares with 11,000 three years previously.

The police federation claims the steep rise in fixed penalties is also due to many forces attempting to make their crime detection rates look better.

Mr Reed said: “Some forces are being encouraged nationally to issue these whenever they can. Officers are saying it's pointless, but the majority of forces are saying they want them to issue them anyway.”

Mr Reed also claimed around half of the fines are never paid due to false names and addresses being given.

Simon Aalders, co-ordinator of the Suffolk Drug and Alcohol Action Team, said there had been an increase in the number of women and youngsters seeking treatment for alcohol problems in the county.

He said: “We know that, in general, women are coming forward with more pronounced alcohol-related problems in terms of the physical consequences of drinking. These women are generally getting younger.

“I think we will see more fixed penalty notices. Police are much more proactive now in dealing with problems as they arise, rather than letting them escalate into more serious problems on the night.”

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ONE of Suffolk's top police officers said he is looking for licensed premises and local authorities to do more to help combat anti-social behaviour in town centres at night.

Assistant chief constable Gary Kitching believes the burden is primarily falling on his officers and that communities need to establish their priorities while enlisting further assistance from the licensees of pubs and clubs.

He also warned of the dangers facing women who drink too much.

Mr Kitching said: “I would say at the root of this is the night-time economy. Policing it has become the priority for us.

“Across a range of crime and disorder which we are seeing is a significant increase from Thursday onwards associated with this.

“I think there's a real issue around vulnerability of people who drink too much, not just to become offenders, but also victims of crime from what we have seen in terms of sex offences. That emphasises that vulnerability.

“Communities have got to ask themselves 'what do we want our town centre to be like on a Saturday night?'. The community itself has got to lead. I suspect we have reached a point where the main response is policing.

“My experience is fixed penalty notices are best used in the early part of the evening to establish control.

“The secret for the future is to get ahead of the game and plan what we want our town centres to be like.”

Mr Kitching said he is totally opposed to using fixed penalties as a way to drive up detection rates, as Mr Reed alleged some forces are doing nationally.

“That would be totally unethical if that's what's happening and I would not be encouraging that. Handing them out like confetti will not make a difference.”

In addition Mr Kitching said the non-payment of fines did not appear to be a major issue in Suffolk.

He added: “We have a high payment rate here, but as partners (with other agencies) we need to work together to ensure people who have fixed penalty notices pay. Nationally that's an issue that needs to be addressed.”