Page last updated at 04:37 GMT, Monday, 21 July 2008 05:37 UK

Drink venues' conduct condemned

Drink-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour was witnessed "frequently"

Alcohol retailers are routinely guilty of "irresponsible and harmful practices", a report commissioned by the government says.

These include venues admitting under-18s, promoting alcohol with cut-price offers and serving people who are "blatantly intoxicated".

The study, drawn up by auditors KPMG, concludes that the industry's voluntary code is "not fit for purpose".

The Home Office said it would introduce legislation if standards were not met.

'Encouraged drunkenness'

To prepare the report, a team of researchers visited nearly 600 pubs, bars, nightclubs, off-licences and supermarkets in England over a five-day period.

Practices observed "frequently" by the survey teams included venues glamorising drinking by linking it with sexual imagery, DJs inducing drinkers to consume more and customers being urged to drink faster through shots and shooters being "downed in one".

Observers repeatedly witnessed customers who were "swaying, stumbling, falling over, slurring their words and struggling to count out the correct money at the bar" being served more alcoholic drinks.

It's time for ministers to take ownership of the issue
Frank Soodeen
Alcohol Concern

In Coventry, one chain venue "actively encouraged drunkenness through a drink-downing competition", while a group of under-age girls was admitted to a nightclub after they were heard by door staff chanting their dates of birth.

Cocktails were often given names associated with drugs, including one sold in Newquay called Liquid Cocaine.

Health and safety hazards including overcrowding, broken glass and spilled alcohol were common, as were incidents of anti-social behaviour such as fights, assaults and criminal damage.

The report found that the industry's voluntarily agreed standards were not consistently adopted, applied or monitored.

"In the current trading climate the commercial imperative generally overrides adherence" to the code, it says.

It recommends strengthening the code, setting up a new regulatory body or mandatory regulation led by local government.

However, it found that supermarkets were complying more fully with the standards, by displaying signs encouraging sensible drinking, while most off-licences displayed age-challenging signs by tills.

Frank Soodeen, head of public affairs at Alcohol Concern, said that the report was "pretty definitive evidence" that voluntary regulation was not enough.

"It's time for ministers to take ownership of the issue and more clearly outline bar managers' responsibilities," he said.

'Marketed responsibly'

A Home Office spokesman said: "Everyone - the alcohol industry, government, local authorities, the police and individuals - has a part to play to tackle alcohol harm.

"The government has made it clear that alcohol must be sold and marketed responsibly and that new legislation will be introduced if necessary if existing voluntary standards are not being met."

The report, titled Review of the Social Responsibility Standards for the Production and Sale of Alcoholic Drinks, was commissioned by the Home Office in February 2008.

The survey was carried out in Coventry, Hackney, Harrogate, Manchester, Norfolk, Tyneside, Newquay and Swindon.

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