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Last Updated: Thursday, 16 August 2007, 01:10 GMT 02:10 UK
No last orders for Leeds teenagers
By Mark Simpson
BBC North of England correspondent

Boy in off-licence
The chief constable called for the legal drinking age to be raised

The chief constable of Cheshire has called for the legal drinking age to be raised from 18 to 21. The BBC's Mark Simpson spent an evening on the streets of Leeds talking to teenage drinkers.

There is no such thing as 'last orders' and the first bottle of cider is downed well before sunset.

At 6.30pm, when in times gone by most kids would be sitting round the dinner table, it is not difficult to find a group of teenage drinkers gulping vodka in a quiet corner of Leeds.

At the side of an old cricket pavilion, I found seven young girls and two older boys sharing cigarettes and alcohol.

It is hard to imagine stumbling across such a scene 40 years ago.

In the days of Geoffrey Boycott and Fred Trueman, it's unlikely that any cricket pavilion in Yorkshire would be lying disused on a sun-kissed summer's evening.

I'd prefer to walk through a group of dogs than a group of young people with a lot of alcohol
Leeds teenager

The boys did not want to talk to me. I attempted to start a conversation with one of the lads, but it ended abruptly when I asked him what Gordon Brown could do for his generation, and he responded by asking "who's Gordon Brown?"

I can't make up my mind whether he was trying to make a deep, philosophical point - or whether he genuinely had never heard of the new prime minister.

The girls were more talkative, but just as defensive.

"What's wrong with what we're doing? Adults are always criticising us but they were once teenagers. They got the chance to grow up, why can't we?" moans one girl.

Her friend chips in: "There's some bad teenagers but there's some bad adults too."

Later in the evening, in a part of Leeds known as Little London, I met a slightly older group of teenagers, carrying a plastic bag with three bottles inside it.

Craig is 18 and unemployed, and is wearing a baseball cap, with the peak over his ear rather than his forehead. He recognises that some people might find him slightly intimidating, but says young people wear the same style just to fit in.

He says what turns a trendy teenager into a threatening teenager is often the amount of booze inside them.

"I'd prefer to walk through a group of dogs than a group of young people with a lot of alcohol," he admits.


After 9pm, in the Belle Isle district of the city, I spotted six young girls and two lads in a cemetery. They were drinking and smoking in between gravestones.

I asked one of the boys why he was there.

"Boredom. For a laugh. There's nowt else to do," he complained.

It is a familiar refrain. And, like most other teenagers, he laughed when I mentioned the proposal to change the legal drinking age to 21.

"It wouldn't make a difference at all," he insisted. "If we want it, we can get it."

I didn't see any violence around Leeds, but everyone knows that booze and teenagers can be a lethal cocktail.

So why is alcohol abuse so rife among the youth of today? Poor parenting? Bad schooling? Family breakdown? New licensing laws? The pressures of modern living? Celebrity drinkers setting a bad example?

If anyone fancies doing any more research, there is no shortage of case studies in Leeds - even on a Wednesday night.

Heaven knows what it is like at weekends.

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