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Last Updated: Wednesday, 8 February 2006, 15:35 GMT
Violence down amid pub law change
Police were out in force as extended pub opening came in
Police detaining a woman
Violent crimes recorded by the police in England and Wales fell by 11% at the end of last year, despite longer pub opening hours coming in, figures show.

The Home Office figures for the last three months of 2005 include a six-week period when the police were given 2.5m to target alcohol-related crime.

The figures are the first since licensing laws were changed in November to allow extended drinking hours.

Police have said it will take longer to assess the full impact of the changes.

Half of all violent crime is linked to excessive drinking and the government had been waiting to see how the figures would be affected by longer opening hours for pubs and clubs.

Under-age drinking

Home Secretary Charles Clarke said the figures represented a step forward in removing "unacceptable" behaviour from Britain's streets.

In a statement, he said progress had been made on cutting sales of alcohol to under-18s and it was the government's intention to eliminate the problem altogether.

Mr Clarke said police work would continue to drive home the message that the "drunken behaviour of the minority" would not be allowed to "impact the lives of the decent majority of people who enjoy a sensible drink with family and friends".

The pub trade is seeing positive changes in drinking patterns and behaviour
Mark Hastings
British Beer and Pub Association

The Home Office gave the police and trading standards departments 2.5m to target binge drinking between 12 November and Christmas.

With more officers on the streets at night, violent crime went down by 11% overall compared with the same period in 2004, with a 21% fall in more serious types of offence, the figures show.

Shadow Home Secretary David Davis said: "What this shows is that if you put more bobbies on the street you will cut crime. However these figures are a result of a six-week crack down on violence which cost 2.5m - what happens when this money runs out?"

He said the government should not use these "bogus, inappropriate and spun" statistics to justify the new licensing laws but should wait and assess the effects of longer drinking hours over a 12-month period at least.

The projections of government and the industry have proved far closer to the truth than the prophesies of the peddlers of doom and gloom
Mark Hastings

Mark Hastings, of the British Beer and Pub Association, said the combination of flexible opening hours and law enforcement was having a "positive impact".

He said: "Communities are seeing a reduction in violent crime and the pub trade is seeing positive changes in drinking patterns and behaviour.

"The projections of government and the industry have proved far closer to the truth than the prophesies of the peddlers of doom and gloom."

British Retail Consortium director general Kevin Hawkins said retailers had been making "huge efforts" to crack down on under-age alcohol sales.

He added: "However, we appreciate there is still some way to go and so these efforts will continue."

Too early

BBC crime correspondent Neil Bennett said it was not possible to draw firm conclusions about the effects of extended opening hours from these figures alone.

He said: "The extra money to tackle drink-related violence has now run out and - as the figures for mugging showed recently - when specially targeted operations stop, so crime tends to go up again."

When the new licensing laws came in on 24 November, police forces said the full implications would not be clear for at least six months.

At the time, about 1,000 premises had 24-hour licences, with thousands more licensed to extend opening times by only one or two hours.

In November, the BBC News website spoke to pubs, police, and local bodies in Luton on how the change was expected to hit their town.

On Wednesday, Luton police and Luton and Dunstable Hospital said it had seen no noticeable change to drink-related crime or the "traditional Saturday night" in Accident and Emergency but it was too early to be certain.

But Tony Negal, manager at Brookes bar, said people were coming to the pub later on: "I've noticed people start their evening at 12 o'clock, stone cold sober, whereas before they would have had a few beers by then."

See police tackle unruly drunken behaviour


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