Nick Forbes criticises police over Newcastle's drink problem

TYNESIDE’S most senior police officers are failing to take the problems caused by drink seriously enough, the leader of Newcastle City Council claimed yesterday.

Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes

TYNESIDE’S most senior police officers are failing to take the problems caused by drink seriously enough, the leader of Newcastle City Council claimed yesterday.

Nick Forbes told a national drink conference in Manchester that he does not believe the daily reality of alcohol-fuelled crime seen by beat officers is reflected in the attention given to the problem by senior officers.

Telling delegates that “Newcastle has a drink problem,” Mr Forbes called for a package of measures to help the city, including stronger licensing powers from Government, a greater sense of commitment from Northumbria Police and the introduction of a 50p minimum alcohol unit price.

Minimum pricing plans under consideration by the Government are thought to be 10p lower per unit than the 50p recommended in Scotland, with Mr Forbes saying the region had to follow the lead set north of the border.

“I want senior officers to listen more to their beat officers about the effect alcohol is having on their communities and translate that into action,” he said.

“Somehow there is a disconnect between police officers’ daily experience of dealing with alcohol-related crime and the messages given out by their senior colleagues at force HQ.”

Northumbria Police was heavily criticised recently by Newcastle councillors who said they had been temporarily unable to push through stronger drink controls because of the lack of support from senior officers.

Part of the current problem, Mr Forbes said, was in addressing the drink problems that occur outside of the city centre. “We need to wake up to the fact that we are in the middle of an alcohol crisis and that new approaches are needed,” the Labour leader said.

He added: “It’s only recently that we’ve steered the debate away from city centre issues and started to look at the real problem, alcohol in the home ... the off- trade not the on trade.

“Two in every five North Easterners who drink pre-load. They buy cheap alcohol from supermarkets and off-licenses and drink before a night out. More than one in four of our 18-24 year olds pre-load regularly or always on a night out.”

He added: “We should also be able to tackle the off-trade by refusing an application on grounds of cumulative impact ... the way we can do with the on-trade.

“People in the Elswick area of my city have told us that there are far too many off-licences and this leads to anti-social behaviour. Shockingly, we’ve had to explain to them that there’s little we can do about it because we don’t have enough powers to regulate the ones we have or even ensure through the planning process that no more are allowed to open.”

Northumbria Police have been forced to defend their work in the city in face of the criticism.

Chief superintendent Gary Calvert said: “We are well aware that there are issues around alcohol in some areas of the city and this is not unique to Newcastle. Areas across the country are dealing with the same concerns.

“We know what the issues are that affect our communities and where and when they happen.

“This is because officers at all levels do listen carefully to frontline staff on the ground on a daily basis to ensure the force is fully informed of the situation. In addition to this, we listen carefully to residents and work closely with partner agencies to make sure we are tackling the issues of most concern to our communities,” he said. “Initiatives are ongoing across Newcastle and the force to tackle the effects of alcohol misuse.”

I want senior officers to listen more to beat officers about the effect alcohol is having

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