Monday, 27 August 2007



Half the off-licences targeted in a police sting operation in Bath were caught selling alcohol to under-age drinkers.

Police and politicians have expressed concern at the results of what are known as test purchases - where teenagers are sent into shops undercover.

The latest police campaign to tackle alcohol-related violence in the city found five out of ten off-licences targeted in Bath sold drink to under-18s.

The sting was part of the latest stage of Operation Relentless - the Avon and Somerset force's ongoing campaign to cut down on crime.

Fixed-penalty notices - one-off penalties given to anti-social behaviour offenders - were issued to staff.

There was more encouraging news at pubs, with none of the nine visited in a joint council operation in Bath on Friday night selling to the under-age mystery shoppers.

Cllr Francine Haeberling, leader of Bath and North East Somerset Council, said the authority was aware that drinking was a problem but believed there was no quick solution. She added that binge drinking seemed to be ingrained in the British culture - with other countries not suffering the same problem.

She said: "We're all extremely concerned about it and certainly we've had discussions about what we can do, but we haven't any short answers.

"It's something we're aware of and worried about. We'll be working very closely with the police, and with health organisations too.

"It's a growing problem and something does need to be done but I don't have any answers at the moment. It's something we all have to work on together. I don't think one organisation alone can tackle it. We need to start with families and schools and try to educate people."

Across the force area, 59 people were arrested as a result of the Relentless initiative.

Two hundred and thirty-one premises were visited, and alcohol was taken away from 82 people.

During the effort, police officers, police community support officers and Special Constables patrolled the city centre and targeted residential areas that often suffered from anti-social behaviour.

During the night 144 anti-social behaviour warnings were issued across the force region.

Assistant Chief Constable Steve Mortimore, who oversaw the operation, said: "Reducing the level of alcohol-fuelled crime is a day-to-day priority for our officers and we work very closely with our partners to ensure we are preventing drink-fuelled violence and anti-social behaviour, as well as dealing positively with incidents that do occur.

"Our overall message could not be simpler - enjoy nightlife and avoid night crime.

"All that we ask people to do is watch how much they and their friends drink.

"Equally pub, clubs and anyone who sells alcohol has a huge responsibility to ensure people do not drink excessively, and, if they are under 18, do not drink at all."

In Bath, the team made arrests for damage, theft, possession, assault and burglary, among others.

ACC Mortimore added: "Those teams spoke to more than 100 individuals in connection with anti-social behaviour related incidents.

"We got a lot of really positive feedback from people out and about who supported what we are trying to do, which is crucial."

Earlier this year, the West Country chain Smile brought in a new rule that anyone looking under the age of 30 has to produce evidence of their age when buying alcohol.

A national report due out on Friday is expected to conclude that although the number of children who drink has fallen, those who do are knocking back far more.

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