The '24-Hour' Licensing Laws Have Made Little Difference, Say Police

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Byline: By Steffan Rhys Western Mail

The new licensing laws which came into effect two years ago today have made little difference at street level, it was claimed last night.

The Licensing Act was implemented with its supporters confidently declaring it would curb Britain's binge-drinking culture and its opponents apocalyptically predicting the birth of the 24-hour pub.

But police last night said the logistics of dealing with an inner-city Saturday night remained the same, while the pub trade said most premises were only staying open an hour later.

They said where the Act had most impact was in forcing licensees to ensure there were no problems at their premises, because they were now faced with increased police and local authority powers to close them down.

In April, the first set of figures to cover the extended licensing laws showed 6,000 fewer people - a 2% drop - were treated for serious violence-related injuries at 33 accident and emergency departments in Wales and England.

But Welsh Assembly Government figures released yesterday showed the number of people being treated for alcohol misuse in Wales had gone up by more than 40% this year.

Inspector Andrew Kingdom, based in Swansea, said in terms of policing the Act had made "no significant difference at all".

"This is good news because when the change happened, operationally we made sure we had plenty of resources to experience what could happen but we didn't see a great change," he said.

"Violent drink-related crime is down 24% in Swansea this year and there have been no glassing incidents in the city for three years.

"We use the licensing laws to ensure licensees use plastic glasses on heavy nights like 'Bleak Friday' (the exceptionally busy last Friday night before Christmas).

"The Act might have been more generous with licensing hours, but it's also far more proactive in tackling premises which are causing problems.

"Premises have not tried to stay open 24 hours. I don't think there are any in Swansea.

"We will always have demands on us in dealing with the night- time economy, but it has certainly not got worse.

"In terms of people spilling out on to the streets as one, it's a little more spread out now, but historically, when night clubs shut at 2am, there would always still be people on the streets until 4am."

Both Dyfed-Powys and Gwent Police forces said they had been forced to spread out resources for longer periods, but Gwent Police said extended opening hours also meant there was less trouble at any one time.

The force said it had seen a slight increase in drink-related violent crime since 2005, but Dyfed-Powys Police said it had seen a 20% decrease in such crime this year.

Prof Jonathan Shepherd, director of Cardiff University's Violence Research Group, said, "The main difference the Act has made is that it has acted as a wake-up call for licensees, because of greater police and local authority powers that now exist.

"There are far greater powers to close down premises, sometimes instantly, which there weren't before.

"As far as the impact on drinking is concerned, the jury is still out. …