Page last updated at 15:43 GMT, Tuesday, 3 June 2008 16:43 UK

Officer's alcohol warning to MPs

Teenager drinking alcohol
Mr Otter criticised parents who "turned a blind eye" to children's drinking

Alcohol has become as easy to obtain as a glass of fizzy pop, Devon and Cornwall's chief constable has warned a group of MPs.

Stephen Otter's comments were made to the Common's Home Affairs Select Committee.

He said alcohol-related rape was on the rise and drink had been a factor in nearly half of violent crimes last year.

"Drink is meant to be licensed. It doesn't feel like that," Mr Otter said.

"It's just as readily available as a glass of Coca-Cola."

Parents drop them off knowing that they are going to be drinking a large amount
Chief Constable Stephen Otter

He told the committee British attitudes to alcohol must change in order to combat the problem.

Some parents not only turned a blind eye to their children's drinking, they encouraged it in some instances, he said.

Mr Otter criticised parents who gave their underage offspring a lift to Cornish beaches in Newquay, Rock and Polzeath fully aware of what would take place.

"Parents drop them off knowing that they are going to be drinking a large amount and be vulnerable to other crime, particularly sexual activity," the chief constable said.

"In Newquay we have used seizure legislation over the last three seasons to seize 8,000 items of liquor.

"But is this really what we want the police to be doing?

Teenagers on Newquay's Fistral beach
Police confiscated 8,000 items of alcohol in Newquay over three seasons

"We have to do something about the parents' understanding of the danger their children are in."

He added that the tactic of videoing the "very abusive" antics of underage drinkers in his force area, then marching children home and confronting their parents with the footage, had proved successful.

In 2004/05, 33% of violent offences in Devon and Cornwall were drink-related but this rose to 46.8% in 2007/08, or 3,261 crimes, the officer said.

"We are definitely seeing an increase in sexual crime, particularly rape, where both parties are drunk or there is an alcohol-related part of the incident," he told the all-party committee.

But Mr Otter said government plans to bring in new laws to stop teenagers drinking in public was not the answer.

He had "some concerns about criminalising young people, when it's probably a phase they're going through and they're going to come out with a criminal record".


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