Page last updated at 00:54 GMT, Monday, 18 January 2010

Why I investigated Buckfast wine

A BBC Scotland investigation into Buckfast Tonic Wine has uncovered new evidence about links between the drink and violence.

It has led to calls for the monks who produce Buckfast to make it available in plastic bottles rather than glass.

By Kenneth Macdonald
Special correspondent, BBC Scotland

Buckfast tasting at Harvey Nichols

This investigation had no agenda.

Rather than start from the standpoint that this humble tonic wine was a "bad thing", we simply wanted to find out why it had acquired a reputation, particularly in the central belt, as Scotland's "commotion lotion".

What became clear was that Buckfast is a cultural phenomenon with an impact far greater than its tiny share of the Scottish drinks market would suggest.

We asked Strathclyde Police about the drink using the Freedom Of Information Act.

They told us that Buckfast was mentioned in more than 5,000 crime reports over the last three years.

That works out as an average of about three offences a day.

More worryingly one in 10 of those offences was a violent one.

Supt Bob Hamilton
Buckfast was mentioned in more than 5,000 crime reports

I spoke to Supt Bob Hamilton of Strathclyde Police's violence reduction unit, who says the figures show there is an association with violence.

"The figures are fairly clear that Buckfast is mentioned in a number of crime reports," he says.

"Over the period requested the Buckfast bottle was used 114 times as a weapon."

This echoes a study carried out in 2007 at Polmont Young Offenders Institution.

It found that of those offenders who had been drinking immediately before their offence, more than 40% had been drinking Buckfast.

The man who conducted that research, Alasdair Forsyth, says the findings were remarkable.

"This is a product, a brand which unusually for any product, is always trumpeting how few units they sell, that they sell less than half of 1% of all the alcohol in Scotland," he says.

Chris Henery
Chris Henery had to get 34 stitches in his head after being hit by a bottle

"So it begs the question why should it be that 43% of violent offences, or offences involving alcohol and young offenders should be that one product."

Buckfast's distribution company, J Chandler & Co, denies there is any causal link between crime and the wine.

But there are further concerns over its packaging.

Buckfast comes in a glass bottle. And the worry is that its association with violence might mean that the bottle is available as a weapon.

Chris Henery was travelling on a bus when he was confronted by a young man with a bottle of Buckfast.

"He starts sort of hitting it … off of the cushion of the seat," Chris told me.

"And I'm just kind of tensing up, like he's right in my way and I can't get by him basically. And then he just smashes the bottle off one of the green poles.

"And that's when he hit me there. I didn't really feel it at the time.

"Then I turned round," he said, "and that's when I noticed the blood. I thought it was my nose because I couldn't really feel anything.

Jim Wilson
Jim Wilson said plastic bottles could be trialled if the government paid for it

"It's not my nose and I just kind of felt that whole bit of my head just hanging off."

Three years on, Chris thinks Buckfast could adopt a simple solution.

"If it was in a plastic bottle at the time then the guys wouldn't have a weapon on them and I probably wouldn't have 34 stitches in my head," he says.

But Jim Wilson, the spokesman for J Chandler & Co, says the company will be sticking with glass because the cost of changing to plastic would be "horrendous".

"We have said to the government if they think it's such a major problem … you fund it and we'll be happy to put a product in a trial and if it works, then we'll put all our sizes into it," he says.

"They probably take the first thing to hand. It so happens if it's a Buckfast bottle, it's a Buckfast bottle.

"It could be a whisky bottle, it could be a gin bottle, it could be any kind of bottle as long as it's handy."

The Buckfast Code is on BBC One Scotland at 1930 GMT on Monday 18 January

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