Drinking and Public Disorder
A report of research conducted for The Portman Group by MCM Research
UK Research – Wakefield
As a field research site, Wakefield was by far the busiest and seemed the most likely to provide us with the hands-on experience of the lager-lout phenomenon: after all it had been dubbed, by the Daily Express in early 1989, ‘the lager lout capital of the North’. A 500-yard stretch of pubs, clubs and fast-food outlets provides a forum for thousands of revellers from all over the North to drink to excess, dance, eat and then, perhaps, become disorderly.
Levels and nature of disorder
We observed here a clear distinction between the patterns of drinking on a Friday and Saturday night. Fridays provided the night out with the boys or the girls and Saturday was a night out for couples. The police have a positive attitude to such traditions, as this extract from a researcher’s report demonstrates:
Meanwhile, P. C. G___ explains: "Friday night is definitely ladies night. There are more cracking women in this town than anywhere, in my experience. So the lads are far too busy to even think of fighting among themselves".
This view is supported by a Special Constable who has just joined us (probably because of the camera). Indeed, he admits to choosing Friday and Saturday nights for his voluntary service because of all the women he tends to meet. This may also explain the numbers of officers who continually parade up and down The Westgate, rather than the more dowdy (but apparently equally troublesome) parts of town, like Kirkgate. The sight of officers leaning out of cars and talking to young ladies is a more familiar one than officers rebuking rowdy groups and individuals.
The circuit drinking common to many town centres was much in evidence with people moving quickly from pub to pub and pub to club, snatching one, or at most two drinks at each stop. This is known locally as The Wakefield Run or The Westgate Run, and involves trying to get to as many places as possible in one evening. The result is that there are large numbers of young people on the street at all times throughout the evening, parading up and down, displaying their best weekend ‘gear’ in a manner reminiscent of the Spanish paseo.
The most striking observation we made during our visits was that the masses of people constantly filling the streets and bars were in good humour, loud and boisterous, but not displaying the riotous behaviour one might expect to see given these circumstances. The consensus here seemed to be that a good Friday and/or Saturday night out was what everyone was looking for after a week’s work which would fund the weekend. Our impressions were confirmed by those weekend revellers we interviewed:
It’s a good place to go basically because there are so many different pubs and clubs to choose from. You do hear a lot of things about the fact that you have got to be careful in Wakefield and that there is a lot of bother but I have never seen anything. Female ‘punter’
Generally speaking there are more quiet days than troubled ones, these days. Your average person who comes into Wakefield, comes to have a good time and they come regularly, sometimes we even know their names. Beat PC
There are clearly some problems in Wakefield, as shown by the Custody Logs in Appendix A, and many of those who are arrested have certainly consumed alcohol – a significant proportion to excess. Yet given the numbers of people using the town centre at the weekend it is surprising how few incidents of violence or disorder we observed. A young male ‘punter’ who has lived in both Wakefield and Oxford, commented:
Friday and Saturday nights are the trouble nights but having said that you probably see more in Oxford on the same nights.
Almost all of our informants maintained that the largest proportion of disorder was caused by ‘outsiders’, people bussed in from the surrounding areas for a night out.
There are also wars between the surrounding towns and villages and that is why the door staff in some of the clubs ask people where they are from in order to keep the different groups separated. It’s usually groups who cause the trouble. If they are that way inclined and they are out together having a few beers it is a recipe for disaster. You get guys coming in and it’s basically your pub. You see them causing a bit of bother and you get involved because you don’t want it in your pub. If it is not your pub, say like in many of the Wakefield pubs, I would walk away from trouble but there are those who would jump in just for the sake of having a go. They are usually the young ones who haven’t got a clue and are so pissed they end up with a battering, but they don’t care. In your local you don’t wait for the barman or the manager to sort out strangers causing hassle, you are there straight away, you are in. Male ‘punter’
One of the main problems is the influx of people from outside of Wakefield. Coach loads are now coming from all over England but mainly from the Northern counties. Beat PC
Locals are wary of causing trouble on the grounds that they use the city centre regularly and want to continue whereas the coach parties are on a one-off trip. We know the locals as well. Beat PC
We did have a big incident recently with a coach load from Sheffield. It started in a pub when the door staff tried to eject a few lads and the whole party joined in and then it spilt out onto the streets and became a battle with the police. There were about 50 individuals involved. This happened on a Thursday night. Had it happened on a weekend we would have had the numbers to control it. As it happened we had to call in support from Dewsbury and Pontefract. Beat PC
Usually it is the people from outside Wakefield that will cause the problems, the locals will usually have a laugh and joke with you. Fast-food operator
Our researcher’s reports on (untaped) interviews with night-club doormen described their approach to this problem:
D___ , the doorman, explained that if a coach party (or any group of more than ten people for that matter) wanted to come into the club, then an advance booking of at least ten days had to be made with the management. This was backed by the incentive of half-price entry for all party goers. To avoid any infiltration by a coach load of lads from Barnsley or wherever, D___ inquired of everyone he didn’t know (some 90%) where they were from, following this up with further questioning regarding address, names of local pubs and so on. If he was aware of a coach coming in from Barnsley for example, he would refuse entry to anyone from Barnsley. The club appears to be continually busy, and so they have no qualms in maintaining a strict entry policy which, inevitably, leads to turning people away.
Many informants emphasised the ‘macho’ style of Wakefield males, and felt that both drinking and ‘scrapping’ were part and parcel of this image.
It’s the 19-20s that are the trouble makers … they think they are Jack the Lad. I think a lot of it is alcohol related … they work all week and go out on the weekend often with the express intention to get into trouble. Male ‘punter’
Maybe the motivation is that they think they have something to prove particularly those in their late teens to 25. After that they seem to calm down, they grow up, they change … they either get really steady girlfriends or they get married. It’s a certain type of mentality, they will spend three or four years being total louts and then they suddenly settle down. It’s like a progression from being useless at school, leaving at 16, getting a job panel-beating or in a factory, going out at weekends and getting wrecked, going back to work … getting a girlfriend and then they settle down. But there is always another generation of the same people coming up behind them. Male ‘punter’
The guys who wander the streets in Westgate when it’s bloody freezing, just wearing a shirt do so because they think it’s tough. It’s a macho image and the women have to fit in with that style, that’s what they are looking for. But it’s a mental toughness as well, they don’t mind if they get into a fight and get battered and bruised, they are resilient. "Oh, I got into a scrap last night but I’ll go down town and get the bastard tonight." Male ‘punter’
There were, however, certain limits to the status to be gained from fighting:
You do get some recognition and status from getting into scraps but only up to a certain point. My cousin who used to hang around with a hard gang, just went too far and he was fighting every Friday and Saturday and getting into trouble and the rest of the gang eventually didn’t want to know. They might have wanted to have a scrap every two or three weeks but my cousin was too much trouble for them. Male ‘punter’
Another hallmark of the tough Wakefield male is his refusal to wear a jacket or coat, even on the coldest winter night, as our researchers report:
We arrived in the town centre at around 8.30 pm. The penchant for sleeveless shirts in the face of a rampant wind was again much in evidence, particularly among the 16-22 age group. This seems to wear off when they get to 30, which makes it very easy for researchers to identify various age-groups.
An alternative explanation for this phenomenon is that the pubs and clubs are very hot and crowded, usually standing room only, with nowhere to put a coat. As one ‘punter’ put it "It’s mad down here, you can’t get near the bar, so I don’t know how people can get a drink, never mind get drunk. It’s never that violent though, just the usual little rows".
These extracts from a researcher’s report give some of the ‘flavour’ of a typical Wakefield venue:
Three doormen stand on guard outside R___, with only one or two milling about inside. The place is very narrow and about 50 yards in length. The toilets are to the rear and it is a local belief that it genuinely takes half-an-hour to get to the toilet and back on a busy night. There is a small enclosed dance area (approx. 6-7 yards square) with the usual twirling lights above. Inside these enclosures about 30 girls are dancing. The males maintain the buyers stance just outside the ring, occasionally inclining heads towards each other to murmur and nod either appreciatively or derogatorily. The buying females are here too, leaning against the walls and perusing suitable passers by. The larger mixed gatherings seem uninterested in anything other than their own groups, which is probably just as well.
While at the bar of R___ we engage two young girls in conversation, one of whom is definitely the worse for wear. The ensuing chat with her and her mate confirms this. "We’re on a beer chase … and we’re really going for it", says the dark-haired one. This is the ‘Wakefield Run’ in full flight. While we are still waiting to get served, their White Rum and Vodka and Cokes have been demolished and they await the eager downing of a half of lager each, which they easily manage. "You’ll have to excuse her, she can’t handle it", the other half of this double act explains. The image required by them is one of drinking a lot, but never displaying the effects. Certainly, R____ (like all the other Westgate pubs) seems mainly to attract the types who want to be seen rather than those who want to fight.
Because of the high concentration of pubs and clubs in a relatively small area of Wakefield town centre, The Westgate, there is a clear geographical area to police and the policing tends to be high-profile at the pub and club closing times. PCs are positioned in pairs in doorways up and down Westgate. A support vehicle is usually stationed at the top of Westgate, and occasionally at the bottom as well.
This ‘belt and braces’ approach certainly proved effective in the one ‘incident’ which we managed to capture on video. Two young lads began arguing outside a fast-food outlet, and within 4 seconds of the first punch being thrown, 3 police officers on foot charged over to grab the offenders. Within 10 seconds of the punch, a police car was on the scene, lights flashing, and two more officers leapt out to assist their colleagues, closely followed by a van containing yet more officers. The police told us that the argument was over a girl, and that the two lads were "the best of mates again" by the time they were both in the van. They were charged with a Public Order offence.
It is fair to say that we encountered very little resentment of these high-profile methods.
I have noticed that there a lot more police about and some on horseback and there never used to be. That may explain why there is not so much trouble about because there are so many police. Female ‘punter’
You know if there is going to be trouble because there are loads of people milling about and lots of police around so it is easy to avoid it. Any sign of trouble and we just go in the opposite direction. Female ‘punter’
The vast majority of those we interviewed felt that the increased numbers of Beat officers, and the high profile, had had a dramatic effect in reducing disorder in the town centre. Many considered the friendly style of these officers to be of even greater importance, and maintained that without this amicable approach, the high profile would be perceived as a threat or, by the more belligerent, as a challenge.
From our own observations, the relationship between the police and the late-night revellers on the whole seemed quite reasonable, with humorous exchanges taking place between individuals, couples and small groups and pairs of PCs. One ‘punter’ felt this to be more typical of the Northern policing style:
I think the police up here are more friendly … we were offered a lift home one night at about 3.00am when we were drunk and a few miles away from home having failed with these two girls. I am pretty sure that is pretty unlikely to happen down South.
The police officers we spent time with certainly seemed far more cheerful than those interviewed in our other research sites: one particularly chatty Beat PC commented:
I used to make far more before [he was in computers], but I was bored stiff. Had to drag myself to work. I come in early now, ‘cos I can’t wait to get here.
1988 was seen as the problem year for the police, when a number of larger-scale incidents had to be tackled. Many of these, however, could be attributed to a particular gang of local villains, a number of whom were subsequently brought before the courts and given prison sentences.
There also seemed to be a good relationship between the door staff (most of the bars on Westgate have them) and the police:
We return to the bar where C works, which is now closed, and chat to some of the other members of the door staff team. They all seem to agree that the increased police presence, coupled with a strong presence on the door of all the premises on Westgate, has reduced the chance of serious violence. The beat-officer we interviewed earlier praised the general standard of ‘bouncing’ across the Westgate strip and the support that door staff give to the police. (researcher’s report)
We get early notice of the problems inside the pubs or clubs through the door staff who tend to sort the problems out. Beat PC
It depends on the type of door staff that the companies employ as to whether they attract trouble or not. I could name a couple of pubs where the door men are employed by a very reputable firm and we never get any trouble from them because they stop it coming in through the door – they are very selective about who they allow in. We never get any complaints about them either. You get one or two places who employ the type who are more for the thumping than the talking. It may be that they are causing the problems because we do get complaints from people about them. Beat PC
In addition, the door staff at most of the bars have a good rapport with their regular clientele:
I have seen the door men throwing people out of places but haven’t seen them doing anything unnecessary really. I’ve seen them hit people back if they are attacked by somebody but I haven’t seen them make the first move. Male ‘punter’
They are usually very friendly door staff but I don’t know what they are like if you are a fella. I haven’t seen them do anything out of order. Female ‘punter’
We spent an entire evening doing the ‘Wakefield Run’ with a doorman from one of the night clubs, and his popularity among the town’s pub and clubgoers was obvious. It seems that most of the doormen’s difficulties arise from large groups who have been bussed in from another area for a night out. In these cases, the sheer numbers involved clearly require careful handling by both police and door staff, even when only one or two members of a coach party are causing trouble.
There are certainly a few bars where the doormen are said to "go in a bit heavy", and some were known to give offenders "a good hiding" once they had got them outside. We were also told of certain doormen who, while not overtly aggressive, would not disappoint those "looking for a scrap". The fact that the clubs and individuals with such reputations could be identified by name, however, indicated that they were the exception rather than the rule.
The consensus among our informants was that Wakefield did have a problem with underage drinkers, although the numbers were deemed to be no higher than in any other town centre. In contrast to Banbury, underage drinking was considered to be a ‘problem’ simply because it is, in itself, illegal, rather than because of any specific association between underage drinkers and disorder. As in our other research locations, under-18s were not easy to identify with any certainty. The doorman who accompanied us around the Wakefield venues, however, was able to be more positive:
A lot of these characters look decidedly underage. We ask C about this and he confirms my suspicions. "I know a lot of them personally and from round where I live … quite a few here are just 14 or 15, definitely". He then proceeds to point out 6 or 7 people to whom this applies. (researcher’s report)
The police confirmed that underage (or at least seriously underage) drinkers did not cause many problems:
Wakefield has a problem with underage drinking like any other town but I think it is over exaggerated. They never really cause any problems and we rarely arrest juveniles (under 17). Beat PC
It’s the 17 to 25s that are the problem group. I have talked to people who say that their idea of a good night out is a few drinks and then a scrap. Beat PC
Most providers of town-centre facilities blamed the 18-25-year-olds for the majority of the disorder:
Mostly it is males about 18-25 who are the aggressive ones and it is when they are in a group, showing off to each other. Hot-dog stand operator
Wakefield inspires a great sense of loyalty among its pub- and club-goers, and most of our informants were keen to refute the ‘lager-lout capital of the North’ allegations. Some felt that the media were responsible for any increase in ‘lager-lout behaviour’:
I don’t think it’s real. I think somebody thought up the name lager louts and everybody jumps on the band wagon. Then you get the lads who want to live up to that image. In effect it could be the media coverage that is causing the problem. People are very impressionable and what you read and see has a big influence. Male punter
When something does happen it tends to get blown up out of all proportion by the media and people are still talking about it for weeks to come and in fact it may have only been a minor incident. Male punter
Fast food and restaurants
Although Wakefield, unlike Banbury, has many alternative late-night venues, the restaurants and fast-food outlets appeared to suffer from similar problems. Again, the managers’ comments focused on the operating companies’ lack of awareness or concern about violence, and the absence of adequate training in handling aggressive customers.
During the week we get about one person who is drunk every month but it is almost guaranteed every weekend. At least a couple of incidents per weekend. Fast-food outlet manager
We don’t get any training in handling that sort of thing. I think they don’t expect it to happen – but then when you get a whole load of bikers in on a Sunday and they start giving you abuse, or fighting, or even just ordinary customers getting angry, you don’t know what to do. It can be frightening, really. Road-service restaurant manager
They get to arguing, then fighting and it just gets worse. OK, you can call the police, but they don’t always get there on time and you lose business because the place gets a bad reputation. I know places that have put up grilles round the counter, or put gorillas on the door, but that can attract even more trouble, and it doesn’t look much like the ads, does it? Fast-food outlet manager
Certain managers were clearly more effective in their handling of potentially violent customers, adopting, on their own initiative, the approaches taught on specialist training courses of the kind now run by some of the major brewers:
Wakefield is a very lively place especially late at night. We are open until 2.30am so our customers are from the clubs and discos when they close. We get a lot of rowdy people but they are mostly regulars so they are controllable. Sometimes it does get out of hand and I can’t handle it. Then I will call the police. They are verbally abusive and threatening but I think I have only had to call the police 2 or 3 times in the last 3 years. Restaurant manager
In the Westgate I know that problems are greater. I think it is down to the management style, we don’t entertain aggressive behaviour and we don’t wind them up. In the event of physical attack we would usually call the police. The first 7 months we had a lot of trouble but then again we were not experienced enough in handling the situation. Now we know, the problems are less. Fast-food operator
When they are drunk they don’t know what they are doing so we try to get rid of that customer as quickly as possible, give them whatever they want or give them the money back, there is no point arguing or fighting. They can’t come over the counter. It’s the people in gangs who are the troublemakers mainly, from the surrounding towns. They come out looking for excitement, fighting over a girl etc. You must stay calm. Fast-food operator
In summary, Wakefield on a Friday and Saturday night is a fast and furious town, the revelry is in the vast majority of cases very good humoured, and the police and door staff seem to have struck a reasonable balance between authority and affability. The town has its fair share of ‘drink-related’ offenders at the weekend, but despite the number of people using the town-centre facilities it is a place where you are much more likely to enjoy an evening’s entertainment than find yourself involved in a fracas.