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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 01:03 GMT
New laws and 'same old trouble'
By Paul Greer
BBC News

The idea was that if you stopped thousands of drinkers having to guzzle down pints of beer before being thrown out of pubs by 11pm you'd do away with much of the violence and binge drinking that blighted many of our city centres.

Some drinkers say they are making the most of longer opening hours

However one year on from the introduction of the 24-hour drinking laws, police in Southampton say it's business as usual on the city's streets.

Insp Lisa Stevens regularly patrols the bars and clubs in Southampton city centre.

"It's disappointing," she said.

"What the change in the licensing law was intended for was to tackle the binge drinking and some of the violent crime we see on our streets, but unfortunately I don't think it's tackled that at all.

"In all honesty in the first couple of months we saw a slight improvement, but it doesn't take long for the changes to become the norm, and people now realise they can stay out till three in the morning and drink and behave in the way they did before."

Drinking culture

Outside one of the city's huge bars an ambulance waits while paramedics attend to a young man who has had his ear partly torn off in a fight.

Only now the fights are at gone three in the morning, not half past eleven at night
Insp Lisa Stevens

Officers are taking statements from witnesses, while a young manageress explains: "We hardly ever get trouble here."

A crowd gathers and people are told to move along. It's early yet.

Some bars close at midnight. As they do people make their way to other establishments where the drink flows till three or four in the morning.

Huge impatient queues snake around buildings, and young men who have already been drinking for several hours relieve themselves against walls.

A scuffle breaks out in the line.

Bad language fills the air, and all the time police officers stand by, watching, ensuring things don't escalate into an all out fight.

"We just don't have the same drinking 'culture' here that they do in other countries," said Insp Stevens.

"It was hoped that if we let people drink for longer they'd just stop when they'd had enough and drift off to their beds, but the reality is they still stay until they are told to leave, and we have the same old troubles flaring up on the streets, in the burger bars and at the taxi ranks.

"Only now the fights are at gone three in the morning, not half past eleven at night."

More work

The change in the licensing hours has had a huge effect on the shift patterns and rotas of police officers.

Police say their work has not become any easier

Pull a night duty in Southampton city centre and a Pc could find themselves still filling out paperwork at five in the morning.

After a night of breaking up fights, picking up drunks and smiling in the face of abuse, it's fair to say the change hasn't made an already difficult job any more attractive.

Overwhelmingly those left standing at three in the morning are young revellers, and in the main they enjoy the freedom the new laws have given them to get a drink whenever they want.

But as one woman said: "The places are just as packed, the bars still as hard to get to and there's still a lot of drunk people on the street.

"So no, I don't think things have really changed."

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