Drinking and Public Disorder
A report of research conducted for The Portman Group by MCM Research
UK Research – Holiday resorts
Inevitably there will be seasonal variations in the number of incidents of town centre disorder. The Christmas and New Year periods, for example, are traditionally a time when people may ‘let their hair down’ more than they would at other times of year. Although our visits to the main research locations took place over a period from January to July we considered it appropriate to look at a couple of other towns which might have some special problems because they were ‘resorts’ catering for the excesses of holiday periods. Blackpool and Brighton had both received adverse media coverage of public disorder, and both are regarded as ‘traditional’ arenas for drinking and fighting. We therefore spent an evening with the Blackpool Police on an August Bank Holiday weekend and a weekend in Brighton during the peak holiday period known as ‘Sussex Fortnight’.
Our night with the Blackpool police proved illuminating. In a preliminary discussion with the Superintendent, it emerged that a certain level of rowdy and boisterous behaviour would be tolerated in a ‘holiday town’ which might be unacceptable elsewhere. Saturday night on the August Bank Holiday weekend was thought to be the busiest night of the year. The previous night had seen 50 arrests, of which 20 were considered to be drink-related. Although the Superintendent recognised the problems of determining drink-relatedness, he felt that alcohol was a factor in many of the Public Order offenses, and to some extent in the Criminal Damage and Assault offenses of the Friday night.
Blackpool has in excess of 45 Public Entertainment Licenses, considered a high number given the size and population of the town. According to the police, most of the public order problems occur after the clubs close at 2.00 am, with considerably fewer occurring after pub closing time. In fact, the quietest period was said to be between 11.30pm and 2.00am, when those who wished to go home had done so, and the rest were in the clubs. This, we found, is not unusual in towns which have a large number and a great variety of late-night venues, as these provide continued entertainment for those who desire it, thus eliminating the frustration of having their enjoyment abruptly terminated at the relatively early time of 11.00pm. In towns (such as Banbury) with few late-night venues, there is a mass ejection of excited young people on to the streets at pub closing time, with no ‘focus’ for their energies and no desire to go home. In Blackpool, and other towns with numerous night-clubs, this ‘flash-point’ is not removed, but it is reduced and postponed until 2.00am.
Despite early-evening rumours at the Police Station concerning a possible influx of Leeds United fans and an imminent acid-house party in the Blackpool area, the patrol car in which our researchers spent the night was called to just seven ‘incidents’:
- a minor scrap between two groups of lads on the Central Pier at 10.45pm (no injuries, one arrest, charged under section 5 of the Public Order Act)
- an (alleged) attempted break-in at an old people’s home at 11.30pm (no sign of break-in, investigation abandoned)
- a wandering middle-aged female, drunk and confused but docile, who had lost her coach party, at 12.30am (taken to train station)
- an attempted car theft at 1.30am (turned out to be group of lads trying to open their mate’s car as he had disappeared and they wanted to go home: warned and told to go to train station)
- a glassing in a night-club at 2.00am (offender, a Blackpool resident aged about 35-40, arrested and detained) a fight outside a night club at 2.30am (no injuries, one lad arrested and charged under section 5, further 15-20 ran off and were not pursued)
- a disturbance at a street party on a council estate at 3.00am (one window broken, no injuries, 3 arrested and charged under Public Order Act).
The patrol car returned to the station several times during the evening, and our researcher noted that a number of drink-driving arrests had also been made by other patrol vehicles, but neither the Leeds United invasion nor the acid house party materialized. Although the police were certainly busy on this Bank Holiday Saturday, the demands on their resources did not appear to be excessive. The officers we accompanied had time to exchange backchat with passing revellers, and even the most trivial of offences were attended to, as our fieldworker reports:
11.00-11.30 pm. While parked on the sea-front 2 or 3 groups of lads in the 18-25 age group walked past the patrol car and shouted abuse at the police. Two lads who were together walked past the car and said "It will take more than you two to take us out", and then walked on. The Sergeant made no real comments to any of these lads other than "Oh! We haven’t heard that one before." Whether the police did not respond to this taunting because we were there is unclear, but if they normally did respond they would be exceptionally busy people.
11.30-11.45 pm. While patrolling through the town centre 2 lads aged between 18 and 20 were spotted carrying 2 deck chairs. They were stopped and asked what they thought they were doing. They claimed they had found the deck chairs but were told that unless they returned them now they would be locked up for the night. Although the lads were insolent they were not abusive and slowly wandered back to the promenade and dumped the deck chairs.
Brighton’s reputation as a venue for disorder began long before the term ‘Lager Lout’ was invented. We visited the town during the peak summer period known as ‘Sussex Fortnight’, and could find no evidence that these latest Folk Devils were following in the footsteps of their predecessors.
Although Brighton has certainly had its share of problems, senior police officers and other informants felt that the Brighton Licensing Project had achieved a significant reduction in incidents of disorder. The Licensing Project, launched in 1986, grew out of police concern over violence associated with licensed premises. High-profile policing in the town centre had provoked hostile reactions, with officers becoming frequent targets for attacks, and the Project was set up to deal with the perceived causes of the disorder.
The police analysis of offences indicated that ineffective management and supervision of licensed premises was a key factor in public disorder. The Project was therefore designed to ensure that both consumption and behaviour were properly regulated. Licensees, and their breweries or operating companies, were reminded of their legal responsibilities, and a special police team made regular visits to all premises. More frequent check-ups were made on pubs with a history of disorder, and the police advised the licensees and brewers on prevention strategies.
Although the Project aimed to enforce existing legislation, special conditions were attached to Public Entertainment Licenses, relating to the conduct of customers outside, as well as inside the premises.
The weekend of our visit to Brighton was, according to the police, the peak period of the year in terms of numbers of people in the town centre. Two members of the research team spent Friday and Saturday night in a particular area of town where the police expected the majority of public order offences to occur, while others ‘looked for trouble’ throughout the town centre.
Although the pubs and clubs were extremely busy, and the streets full of rowdy young people, the atmosphere was generally good. The police presence seemed minimal, although numbers increased at closing time. The only serious incident we witnessed did in fact occur in the area earmarked by our police contacts, and involved two of the problems with which they are currently concerned: the behaviour of door staff and underage club-goers:
We observed an incident outside The P___ Club on Friday evening. A member of the door staff was struggling in the middle of the street with two young girls. There was much screaming and shouting from the two girls and then the member of door staff was observed to slap one of the girls with an open hand across the face. The girl raised her arm to protect herself and the slap caught her on the top of her arm. At this point the doorman retreated to the entrance to the club.
The two girls returned to the club entrance, clearly unhurt, and proceeded to yell abuse at the doorman involved. A young lad (about18), who must have been involved in the incident earlier, was arguing with other members of door staff.
One other member of door staff then came out from the club and displayed his Tai boxing prowess. As the lad squared up to the doorman, who had made no physical contact at this stage, the doorman produced a punch to the lad’s nose, causing it to bleed. He then retreated to the inside of the club.
The police arrived in their support vehicle, along with a police car, and
two officers interviewed the door staff. Another police officer talked
to the lad, who was complaining that he had been hit. The police, however,
clearly took the side of the door staff and suggested that the lad went
on his way. Meanwhile repairs were underway to mend a hinge on the club
door, which had been damaged in the fracas. As usual, a crowd of people
had gathered to observe the incident, but none became involved. It is also
worth noting that the girls and the male involved in the incident were
unquestionably below the legal drinking age.
At the time of our visit Brighton had 45 night-clubs, with about 120 door staff in operation on Friday and Saturday nights. It is a licensing requirement for all premises using door staff to keep a register of their staff with full names and addresses. Door staff are also required to wear name badges at all times, although we observed a number who were not displaying these badges.
We recognise that a one-off visit, even on the busiest and potentially most volatile weekend of the year, could provide an unrepresentative picture. As we had only witnessed one serious incident, we checked back with our police contacts:
No, you weren’t in the wrong places. If you were in W- Street and D- Street, you were looking in the right places at the right times, but it has really tailed off since the Licensing Project. You still get the usual rows at closing time, though. But it’s more the estate pubs we’re worried about now – well, a few of them anyway.
One of the real trouble spots has been closed. It had a new manager every few weeks, they just couldn’t find anyone who could control the place. And underage drinking is a problem on the estates as well. But in the centre, I mean it’s summer and there’s not really been much apart from that football one that got out of hand. Beat PC
His last comment referred to an incident following a Cup Semi-Final. The police told us that, through cooperation with the town’s licensees, only 4 pubs were televising the match. Although those involved in the disorder had undoubtedly come from the pubs, their behaviour was not considered to be alcohol-induced. The police also felt that the Press had exaggerated the incident.
There were about 3 or 4 hundred involved in this rampage through the streets after the game, and a party for some foreign students was going on in one of the night clubs. Now, the students were about to leave the club at the same time as this crowd of football supporters were on the street, so the officers asked them to stay inside the club until the crowd has dispersed. The papers reported this as the crowd terrorising the foreign students, threatening them and preventing them from leaving the club. Senior police officer
In conclusion, it seems as though the closer liaison between police and licensees brought about by the Licensing Project has had a significant effect on town-centre disorder. The crowds in the streets were certainly loud and boisterous, but there was very little aggressive behaviour. As one ‘punter’ put it:
Yeah, you get some rowdy behaviour. We’re out for a Friday Saturday night, we’re not going to sit round and have a bloody tea party are we? The papers say your Lager Louts go round in gangs and frighten elderly people and that, but really how many grannies do you see in the streets at this time of night? I mean like you get a bit of a scrap outside a club or something, and the next day you read the paper and there’s been a riot and the streets aren’t safe. Then they say people are scared. Well they would be, wouldn’t they?