Drinking and Public Disorder

Drinking & Public Disorder - download the book in pdf format Dr Peter Marsh & Kate Fox 1992

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Drinking and Public Disorder
A report of research conducted for The Portman Group by MCM Research

UK Research – The Scottish experience

Scotland has long been used as an experimental base for legislation in both England and Wales. Licensing laws are no exception, and it should be noted that the all-day drinking laws which are now firmly established in this country were pioneered in Scotland. Early scepticism about the effects of this relaxation of the drinking regulations has largely been dismissed and the feared increase in town-centre disorder was never realised. In fact, many of the English police forces with whom we have had contact have noted the positive effects that this piece of legislation has had, in terms of the reduction in problems associated with closing times in the afternoon.

Whereas prior to the legislation there was a slight increase in drink-related arrests when the pubs closed in the afternoon, now no such ‘blip’ in the figures occurs. This suggests that drinking in a supervised environment throughout the day has a positive effect on people’s behaviour and, at the very least, lessens the likelihood of drink-related crime spilling onto the streets in the period between afternoon closing and early evening re-opening.

We have certainly seen a drop off in problems during the late afternoon when the pubs used to close at three. I think people now tend to stay in the pubs and then drift off home early evening. They don’t have to rush their drinks off at closing time and although there are still those who do get drunk, they are not lurching about on the streets. Experienced beat officer

It is difficult to determine the effects of the bye-law because it was introduced at the same time as the all day drinking, but you don’t see a lot of drunks on the street during the afternoon any more. Senior police officer, Coventry

The Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976 applied permitted hours from 11am – 2.30pm and 5pm – 11pm Mondays to Saturdays, plus 12.30pm – 2.30pm and 6.30pm – 11.pm on Sundays. A practice of regular extended licensing hours developed during the 1980s bridging the afternoon gaps and also progressing beyond 11pm. The Law Reform (Misc Prov) (Scot) Act 1990 standardised the permitted hours as 11.00am – 11.00 pm Mondays to Saturdays, with no change on Sundays, but allowed public houses to have afternoon and evening extensions. Effectively, in Edinburgh, it was possible, under the 1976 legislation and now, following the clarifications of the 1980 Act, to drink around the clock in the town centre.

Despite the flexible arrangements for extensions to permitted hours, the majority of premises chose not to open throughout the night. This left pub- and club-goers with limited options for very late night activity and, to a certain extent, funnelled the ‘hard’ drinking into the one or two premises which were open until 6am. Patrons of these establishments then had the option for further consumption in the few premises which opened at that time to cater for finishing shift workers.

Previously, regular extensions were granted on an almost ad hoc basis. Senior licensing Inspector

In Edinburgh, a Zone Closing Policy for licensed premises was introduced in three city centre wards in October 1990. This meant that pubs in certain areas of the town had their regular extensions restricted. There are 5 different closing times but the three which applied to public houses, depending on street location, are 12.30am, 1.00am and 1.30am. It is still possible to obtain a regular extension beyond these hours providing the licensing board are satisfied that ‘the proposed extension … is likely to be of such benefit to the community as to outweigh any detriment.

Despite the Zone Closing Policy the latest de facto extension for public houses in Edinburgh is currently 3am. Entertainment licenses, on the other hand, are generally granted extensions up until 4am and these regular extensions apply to the disco and entertainment venues.

Since Part III of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Scotland) Act 1990, which came into effect on 1st January 1991, there has been a crackdown on regular and occasional extensions of the permitted hours. In Section 47 of the 1990 Act applicants are required to establish ‘a need in the locality’ and to show that the proposed extension ‘… is likely to be of such benefit to the community as to outweigh any detriment’.

Although in the Edinburgh district alcohol-related crime statistics have in the main been kept, the main ‘detriments’ to the community seem to be those of noise and public nuisance, although late night disorder is another suggested factor. Because there is quite a high density of residential property in central Edinburgh it is not too surprising that objections and complaints have been received.

The main objections come from disturbed residents and I suppose it is fair to say that if people did not make any noise when they were having a disagreement then there would be no real problem. Senior police officer

Obviously different licensing boards throughout Scotland have, and will have, different problems. In West Lothian, for example, the reins on late evening extensions have been tightened and the restrictions are applied throughout the district. These restrictions were imposed in the light of the available crime statistics, and reductions in reported crime have been noted following the cut back on regular extensions. In Edinburgh, however, a more enlightened approach has been adopted, largely at the prompting of the Safer Edinburgh Project, whose coordinator, Mr John McGowan, was seconded from the police. He considered that although there was a need for a clearer policy on extended licensing hours – hence the Zone Closing Policy – the West Lothian solution was too blunt for a city centre with a large number of tourists.

The Crime Profile Update 1989, produced by the Safer Edinburgh Project, makes some interesting comments on the nature and scale of the problems experienced in Edinburgh.

The impact of Non-Sexual Crimes Against the Person upon individuals in the city centre can be easily over-estimated. After all there is a certain degree of inevitability about crime through the urbanisation process and from an historical perspective the newspapers in the early 19th century Edinburgh give similar accounts of street violence and disorder. Such crimes today are but a drop in the ocean in terms of the vast number of potential opportunities presented and clearly such criminal conduct represents a very small proportion in the totality of social activity. In the Crime Profile 1988 (paras 3.29, 3.30, and 7.7) the reported victimisation statistics revealed that during 1988 for every 10,000 residents in the city approximately-
18 persons were subject to Assault and Robbery;
35 persons were subject to Assault classified as Serious;
58 persons were subject to Petty Assault.
Indeed from another perspective, this update for 1989 shows that in the City centre there was an average of only-
4 Assault and Robbery incidents;
7 Assault classified as Serious incidents; and
16 Petty Assault incidents, were reported each week.

Despite the reported number of incidents, only 85 victims of Assault and Robbery and 271 victims of Assault classified as Serious in the city centre, received injuries which required medical treatment.

Although this puts the scale of the problem into some context, it is recognised by the Safer Edinburgh Project that there is a problem with certain age groups at certain times in the City centre and that those problems have increased, however the reasons for the increase are not entirely clear.

It has to be concluded that during the day-time and early evening the public facilities and spaces in the City are still relatively very safe places to frequent….It can be reasonably be claimed, although there is a risk of losing the distinction, that for the international visitor, the City must rank as one of the safest cities in the world. Unfortunately the image is tarnished at night, because for certain age groups of persons living in the City seeking late night/early morning leisure facilities at certain places in the City centre, the risk of non-sexual violence is very much higher…

There is absolutely no doubt that the level of reported Non-Sexual Crimes Against the Person analyzed has insidiously increased over the last five years throughout the Lothian and Borders area…..and that a substantial proportion is concentrated in the City centre. Part of this increase may be due to increased public confidence to report such crimes, or indeed an increased police efficiency to discover more ‘hidden’ crime, but this cannot be confirmed without detailed Crime Surveys over intervals of time………

Moreover the range of factors which caused these significant changes is open to speculation. For example, operational policing in the City centre which since the mid-1980’s has progressively responded to the increasing levels of late night/early morning violence, redoubled its effort during 1989 taking account of the 1988 findings. There is also some evidence that the restriction on regular extensions to licensing hours to 0100 hours, which was only partially implemented during the course of 1989, was beginning to take effect. However it could be equally speculated that lesser numbers of persons entered the City centre during 1989 for leisure purposes.

In looking at the causes of the problems within the City centre, the Safer Edinburgh Project make some salient points relating to some of the time-honoured scapegoats:

It has almost become fashionable to blame City centre violence on having too many pubs or inadequate services such as policing, transport or indeed lighting in the City centre in search for solutions to the problem. Like all social problems, the problem of late night/early morning violence in the City centre has a general cause as well as particular causes. Whereas the general cause is one of City leisure facility structure, which has to be retained for the tourist industry, one of the particular causes which has become an issue in recent years is the inadequate late night/early morning public transport. Although steps to address the public transport system have been taken, it ought to be kept in mind that much of the increase in late night/early morning violence took place before the deregulation of bus services. It is also important not to lose sight of the fact that individuals are to blame and that they have a civic responsibility not to assault others. Moreover the normal stereotyping of violent offenders originating from the peripheral housing estates in the City does not apply.

The Safer Edinburgh Project conclude their Crime profile Update-1989 by suggesting that:

The key issue in the crime prevention process towards reducing Non-Sexual Crimes Against the Person committed in the City centre and harmonising the core interests of residents, public services such as the police, hospitals and transport, and the licensed trade and entertainment industry, focuses on local Licensing Board policy relating to regular extensions to licensing hours.

In April 1991 the Safer Edinburgh Project, as part of a strategy to curb late-night violence, launched a series of three forums with local licensed trade members from pubs, clubs, hotels and restaurants covering three police sub divisions. They addressed perceived local problems using a questionnaire. The following recommendations were highlighted:

At the same time a different initiative was taken by the police in Corstorphine and debated very similar issues with local licensees. The police here were not looking for a ‘broad axe’ policy on extensions, but a multi-agency approach to the problems that both the trade and the police experienced.