Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 474 - 479)

TUESDAY 3 JUNE 2008

MR STEPHEN OTTER

  Q474  Chairman: Mr Otter, thank you very much for coming. You have the right of reply on a number of issues since you are the last witness this morning. If there are any matters on which you wish to comment other than those we ask you about please feel free to do so. I start by asking you what proportion of criminality dealt with by your police force is alcohol-related?

  Mr Otter: If we look at Devon and Cornwall, since 2004-05 there has been a fairly significant increase in the proportion of violent crime where we can be absolutely sure there is an alcohol-related aspect. In some other areas that is quite difficult to identify. The proportion of violent crimes went up from about one third to half last year, so it is a significant increase. That must be viewed against a reduction in the trend of violent crime overall. When we start to look at the nature of that violent crime 42% is in the street but what concerns us is that 30% is in the home and it is related directly to domestic abuse. The impact of this increase in violent crime related to alcohol is not just about disorder and rowdiness, which is very serious; it is related also to problems in the home and the family. We have serious concerns about that.

  Q475  Chairman: Earlier I gave the overall figure of 46% of crimes being alcohol-related. Would your force reflect a similar percentage?

  Mr Otter: Overall it is similar. We would say that there is a health warning around that particular figure because "alcohol-related" could mean an offence relating to a licensee, for example. It is more difficult to gauge what harm is being done which is obviously what we are interested in.

  Q476  Chairman: Can you give us any trends? Is it more prevalent among young people or women?

  Mr Otter: It is more prevalent among young people; one only has to look at hospital admissions to see that. It is also more prevalent among women. In our area we have levels of hospital admissions for women which are higher than the English average. That is partly to do with the fact that we get 10 million visitors to our area every year. Most of the statistics are based on resident population figures. We have a population of about 1½ million. We see an increasing trend of young people and women who are intoxicated. Intoxication leads one to being either a victim or offender. The worrying trends are really those to do with sexual crime. We see a definite increase in serious sexual crime, particularly rape, in which a lot of young people are involved where both parties are drunk or part of the incident is alcohol-related.

  Q477  Tom Brake: Have you been able to analyse why there has been an increase in violent crime? We heard earlier that perhaps it is not to do with the price of drink. In your view is it to do with the fact that drink is getting cheaper and therefore people drink more—that was challenged earlier—and the more they drink the greater the risk of violence, or is there some other factor that explains why, for instance, there is a significant increase in domestic violence?

  Mr Otter: The factors are fairly complex. ACPO has done some thinking on this from the policing point of view. There is a change in the drinking culture and people drink more. We think that could be due to price and it is certainly down to the concept of happy hour—buy one, get one free—so that people double their intake in an evening basically because they cannot resist the offer. There is also a change in the nature of drinks. Our view is that that results in more young people drinking stronger drinks. For example, a lot of alcopops are now served in what look like water bottles with pop-up tops—the sort of thing you would take along to a gym. They are bright blue and purple in colour. In our view they are not drinks that are destined for the dinner table of a 45 year-old couple. There is something about the presentation of the liquor itself. We are talking about a substance that is licensed because it is dangerous. I should like to talk a little more about the licensing of it.

  Q478  Tom Brake: You are clearly suggesting that the packaging is designed to appeal to young people and possibly underage drinkers as well?

  Mr Otter: Our view is that it is. We have not done any research on it but it seems commonsense that these types of drinks tend to be more attractive to younger people, in particular young women. Once upon a time, if you went to a pub you had the choice of only a pint and maybe a glass of fairly rough wine and a sweet drink of some kind. Now the sweet drink has vodka in it. One also has other additives like caffeine which are all about sustaining the drinking so one does not get tired. One of the most popular drinks for young women at the moment is vodka and Red Bull. I did my own market research because I knew I would be attending today. I asked a 19 year-old girl how many she would have and she said eight.

  Q479  Chairman: Newspapers talk about drinks called Girl Lychee and Girl Coco produced by a Geneva-based company called Necker which they say are also targeted on young women.

  Mr Otter: I have never heard of it.


 
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