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Tuesday, 17 October, 2000, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
The fight for Saturday night

The latest British Crime Survey shows an overall drop in crime of 10%, but violence by a stranger has jumped by 29%.

More than half of the victims said their attacker was under the influence of drink at the time, suggesting that many incidents were the result of after-pub brawling.

Many of Britain's towns and cities live a double life. Laid-back, civilised, sometimes even charming by day, they undergo a Jekyll-to-Hyde transformation at night.

Drinkers seated
Sit down: Bars with inadequate seating could mean trouble
Weekends are worst. Drinkers spill out of bars at closing time on Friday and Saturday evenings and take their bravado on to the streets.

Often matters get out of hand as the alcohol takes hold and stress levels reach boiling point. Threats are made, broken bottles brandished and punches thrown.

Sometimes the result is nothing less than "anarchy", according to the head of the Police Federation, Fred Broughton.

"We are living in a pretty violent place. Lots of our towns and cities during certain times are pretty tough," he said on Monday.

Professor Jonathan Shepherd, architect of a violence prevention group in Cardiff, has anecdotal evidence of the rise in alcohol-fuelled crime over the past two decades.

Mr Shepherd, a surgeon at University of Wales Hospital who frequently ends up nursing the wounds inflicted during post-pub fighting, witnessed a "steady and inexorable increase in assaults requiring hospital treatment" between the mid-1970s and the mid-1990s.

You have two or three and at that point the drink takes over, and you end up having five or six

Eric Appleby, Alcohol Concern

"The degree of violence went up as well. There was an automatic tendency to put the boot in, to use glasses and, more recently, bottles," he said.

The link between alcohol and violence is well established and a report issued by the Home Office in November - Alcohol and Crime: Taking Stock - backed the notion that drinking in bars was associated with greater violence than in other settings.

A survey last year by Police Review and Alcohol Concern, found alcohol causes more problems for police than drugs. The report revealed 68% of police officers said they encountered alcohol-related crime and disorder on a daily basis.

Happy hour syndrome

Eric Appleby, chief executive of Alcohol Concern, says some of the blame must rest with the trend for more pub promotions.

Woman with pint, in a fountain
Women and men are drinking more than they used to
"It's the happy hour syndrome. The whole purpose of that is to get people into a pub, get them drinking and drinking fast," says Mr Appleby.

"You go in thinking you'll have a quick one but end up having two or three and at that point the drink takes over and you end up having five or six."

Research shows that alcohol consumption is increasing. Almost 40% of men aged 16 to 24 regularly drink more than eight units (four pints) in one sitting.

Sean Young, editor of Police Review, pins part of the blame on stronger drinks now available in pubs and says cheap-alcohol promotions are more commonplace as pub chains get more competitive.

Don't stand for it

Another theory for the rise in violence is the layout of pubs. Last year's Home Office report suggested inadequate seating could lead to aggressive behaviour. In 1998 police in York looked at a plan to encourage more drinkers to nurse their pints sitting down.
Hand ringing bell
Late appeal: The change to closing times may help

One possible solution already in the pipeline is the government plan to relax the strict closing time in pubs.

Experts have long suggested the strict 2300 "last orders" deadline in England and Wales increases the likelihood of trouble, as drinkers tend to spill out of pubs and on to the streets together.

The government wants to relax the law so publicans could stagger closing times. This might ease the burden on police officers by allowing them to spread their limited manning resources.

But Mr Appleby warns extended hours is "not a panacea".

"It's worth a try but will need a lot of monitoring. You can bet that one of the problems will be that people who drink a lot will just drink more."

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See also:

17 Oct 00 | UK
Crime figures drop 10%
02 Jul 00 | UK Politics
'Thug pubs' targeted
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