Examination of Witnesses (Questions 480
TUESDAY 3 JUNE 2008
Q480 Chairman: You have not researched
Mr Otter: No.
Q481 Chairman: Referring to the licensing
laws, do you believe they have become more liberal and more people
are consuming alcohol and therefore there is greater disorder?
Mr Otter: There are two things
working together here. One is a change in the culture of drinking
which I do not believe is a result of a change in the licensing
laws. But I do not believe that the licensing laws have responded
to the change in culture.
Q482 Chairman: What is the change
Mr Otter: There is a more liberal
approach to drink. In the drugs market there is peer group pressure
among young people that you do not enjoy yourself unless you have
a joint. That type of thing is now happening with drink. An evening
of enjoyment is therefore related to drink. That grows very quickly
into a cultural change, that is, if you go out to enjoy yourself
you have a drink. There are other elements in terms of the supply
side. We talked about price, presentation and the types of stand-up
venues clearly designed for high volume drinking, not sitting
around to chat. There is some evidence of that. As to legislation,
our view is that it does not allow partnerships to control the
nature of our town centres. We heard from the supermarkets that
we cannot rely on self-regulation because the competitive power
is so great. People are well-meaning but at the end of the day
they are competitive and so things start to happen that perhaps
they might not set out to do. Regulation is important. That takes
us back to the reason why we license this in the first place.
There is a view that one ought to be able to stop a strip of high-volume
drinking establishments in a town centre. There ought to be a
way to regulate the way people drink within premises. We cannot
do that at the moment. I do not think this is about the new Act;
it is a general issue. Perhaps the Licensing Acts have not really
had to deal with something like this, certainly not since 1800.
Q483 Mr Winnick: The argument in
favour of the new licensing laws is that instead of everyone drinking
up by 11 and causing a possible disturbance the situation has
changed. Is it not the case that the situation has changed for
the worse and people become very intoxicated after 11 as long
as the pubs are open with all the sorts of antisocial activity
we see in which the police are much involved?
Mr Otter: I agree with that. That
is the experience in our towns in particular where there are large
numbers of premises open beyond 11 o'clock. It is not the case
that one has a diversity of closing times. Competition means that
each town takes on its own nature in terms of closing, so it finds
a level. For example, in Bideford it will be one time and in Tavistock
it will be another. From a competitive point of view they all
settle around a certain time, perhaps two o'clock for one and
three o'clock for another. One still gets large numbers coming
out at the same time. It is not a product of legislation but the
way this market works. That has implications for our resources.
Once upon a time we corralled resources around a particular time.
Q484 Chairman: We shall come to policing
costs a little later.
Mr Otter: There is an issue related
to that. In relation to communities people used to be able to
put up with a certain amount of noise between 11 and 12. In part
it is the noise which really affects communities particularly
where drinking establishments are in residential areas.
Q485 Mr Winnick: It can go on all
Mr Otter: Yes.
Q486 Gwyn Prosser: You started to
mention some limitations of the new Act in terms of revoking licences.
When the Bill was promoted one of the points the government kept
making was that it would give responsible authorities, the police,
powers to remove licences from irresponsible licensees. To what
extent have you used those powers? If there are deficiencies what
Mr Otter: I think that one of
the real powers of the legislation is that the review process
works very well. We have carried out 40 reviews.
Q487 Gwyn Prosser: These are reviews
Mr Otter: Under the Act we have
to undertake a review process before we can set new conditions,
get rid of the licensee and so on. That works very well. I think
that two designated premises supervisors, as they are called,
have now been moved on and new ones put in. They are not the same
as licensees; it has changed slightly. With the local authority
we can say that they should install CCTV before they reopen or
we close down the premises, but to some extent that is after the
horse has bolted. I would like us to get ahead of it and have
premises we can be certain suit the local environment. One of
my concerns is that if you look at the responsible authorities
that can have a say in relation to a new licence the health authority
is not one of them. I also believe that planning does not play
a strong enough role. I have done a little thinking on this and
talked to colleagues about how often a planning department thinks
whether this is what it wants in its town. It is more about getting
ahead of the opening of new premises; otherwise, we are always
chasing our tails with the reviews we carry out.
Q488 Gwyn Prosser: You have told
us about some of the deficiencies and the ways you would like
to see it improved. What are you doing in your particular patch
to tackle the increase in criminality?
Mr Otter: As you know, every year
we have three events, one in Newquay, one in Rock and one in Polzeath,
which are attended by lots of young people. We read in a newspaper
exactly the same thing: parents drop off very young people knowing
they will be drinking large amounts and will be vulnerable to
other crime, particular sexual activity. We have done a lot of
work with local licensees. We have reduced the amount of violent
crime in those areas significantly. For example, in Newquay we
have used legislation over the past three summers to seize 8,000
items of liquor. One starts to wonder: is this the role that one
wants local police officers to be doing? People are not committing
an offence, but there is power to seize liquor. It is an important
power which I welcome, but we have to think: how do we stop it
happening in the first place? I know that it is not about policing
but is to do with education and investing in this. There is a
significant difference between the amount invested in drugs and
alcohol education in our schools. I should like to see a lot more
done to educate young people about the real harm. For them it
has to be shocking and real.
Q489 David Davies: There is a problem
with underage drinking at seaside towns and it has been widely
reported. Do you believe there should be greater emphasis on prosecuting
young people who either commit offences or are found to be drinking
or buying alcohol under age, which is an offence? How do you respond
to the criticism that all too often the police will seize the
liquor and not do anything further?
Mr Otter: A child does not commit
an offence if it is drinking or is in possession of liquor. I
know that there have been recent discussions about the creation
of a criminal offence in that respect and the availability of
powers related to parents. I have some concerns about criminalising
young people. It is probably a phase they go through and they
will come out of it with a criminal record. I do not believe that
is the answer. The seizure legislation works but I also believe
it is important to work with parents so they understand the danger
to their children.
Q490 David Davies: For example, in
North Wales those found to be drinking under age are taken home
by the police and parents are given advice. What about fairly
firm policing when children whose alcohol is removed start to
Mr Otter: We do all of that. For
example, we have a major problem in Torquay. We work with the
local authority. Our officers on the street carry video cameras.
We take video footage of 13 and 14 year-olds drinking and often
being very abusive. We then take them home and show it to their
parents. We have learnt that often if you do not take the video
footage home parents do not take any notice. There is a sense
that our authority is less welcome back in the home, whereas if
we show it there is irrefutable evidence and that works quite
well. There is a whole programme where undercover young people
are sent in to buy drinks. We work with local authorities to do
test-purchasing. In Plymouth we find there is quite a high rate
of underage sales. Obviously, we target those premises that we
think are doing it and we prosecute. All of these things are right
and we shall do our very best to use the legislation. I believe
that the legislation is good for policing but that the volume
and demands are increasing at such a rate that there must be a
more fundamental change. I come back to the premise that we are
dealing here with a drink that is meant to be licensed. It does
not feel like that to us; it appears to be just as readily available
as a glass of Coca-Cola.
Q491 Mrs Dean: Based on the alcohol
that has been confiscated have you been able to make any analysis
as to what is the worst problem? Is it alcohol that has originated
from supermarkets, or perhaps has been purchased by parents, or
is it alcohol from convenience stores that may or may not be purchased
by young people?
Mr Otter: A lot of stores work
with us. We mark products with information about the postcode
of the seller and so on that can be seen under ultraviolet light.
That has enabled us to identify stores that sell these drinks
and go back to find out precisely what has happened. We have CCTV.
In the majority of cases it comes from convenience stores in the
sense they are off-licences in a street on an estate somewhere;
in other cases they are supermarkets. A lot of the evidence we
have gathered at the moment indicates a major trend away from
young people buying it, because they know they will not get it
any more, to adults who buy it for them. For example, if you go
to Torquay and speak to convenience stores you find that they
have a really difficult job. Believe it or not, people walking
down the streetyou and meseem to be willing to walk
into these stores and buy drink on behalf of young people, give
it to them and then walk on.
Q492 Mrs Cryer: There are some parts
of the world where alcoholic drinks can be bought only from liquor
stores, hotels and restaurants. To retail drink one must provide
drink through a licensed liquor store. I did not ask the previous
retailers about it. There did not seem to be much point in it;
it would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. What do you think
about it? Would it help to have a specific liquor store in an
area which is firmly regulated as opposed to being able to buy
drinks in supermarkets? Can you also comment on whether or not
it might be useful to have on each bottle or tin a government
health warning similar to that which we see on cigarette packets?
Mr Otter: The premises where these
drinks are sold are licensed. I would not go as far as to say
we need to follow Sweden where there are only state-controlled
outlets, if that is what you mean. I believe the licensing should
be able to control it better. As to warnings on bottles, I think
that would help. We would like to see clearly designated areas
in supermarkets with better trained till operators. Till operators
find it hard to deal with conflicts and challenge people who try
to buy liquor.
Q493 Ms Buck: You referred to parents
purchasing alcohol for children. Do you have an idea, or has anyone
else engaged in trying to find out, why this happens and what
is going through the minds of adults? Are there some adults who
are perfectly aware of the potential consequences and do not care,
or is there a larger group of adults who simply do not think through
the risks? Are they buying for 16 year-olds or 13 year-olds? We
need to understand more about what that group is doing and why.
Mr Otter: The range is quite diverse.
The evidence about the purchase of alcohol from convenience stores
is that these are randomly picked individuals who walk past young
people. They will keep asking until they get the right response
and someone goes in to buy it. We also know from the Polzeath,
Rock and Newquay examples that young people below 18 are sent
on holiday with liquor given to them by their parents, or at the
very least parents turn a blind eye to the fact that their liquor
store has been raided. They will take bottles of vodka with them.
That is allowed to happen. I do not know the reason. My own view
is that drink is generally accepted as part of our world; it is
not like drugs where parents may find cocaine and say, "What's
this?" There is a view that this is a phase through which
young people pass, that it is a bit of fun and they will grow
out of it and move on.
Q494 Tom Brake: What is your view
about the financial contribution that the alcohol industry is
making towards the policing costs associated with the consumption
of its product?
Mr Otter: ACPO takes the strong
view that essentially in this case the polluter pays. We do not
accept the view of industry that it pays taxes just like any other
business. If you are a baker and bake bread it does not result
in harm to the community. We would like to see an element of payment
for policing and a contribution in the area of health. That would
perhaps help to manage the competitive edge to the supply of liquor
which concerns us. We have concerns about some of the proposals,
for example the alcohol disorder zones, but only in relation to
the bureaucracy associated with them. How would you decide which
premises paid what, etc, etc? In principle it is worth investing
time to think about how to do it.
Q495 Tom Brake: If the alcohol disorder
zones initiative went forward would you expect supermarkets to
be part of it and to make a financial contribution?
Mr Otter: I would. Its strength
would be that everyone within the area would contribute; otherwise,
it would just be bureaucratically so complicated. Because of the
financial incentive it would encourage people to look at common
Q496 Tom Brake: Do you have a view
about the additional cost of a pint of beer or glass of wine that
you think the industry should bear?
Mr Otter: Not at all.
Q497 Tom Brake: To take a particular
town in your area, for how many additional community support officers
and police officers do you think they should bear the cost so
we can get an idea of the expenditure attached to better policing
that they are in part creating?
Mr Otter: To a certain extent
I liken it to the policing of football. Once upon a time policing
costs were not borne by football clubs; now they are. I regard
it as being very similar to that. The police, local authority
and the football club all look at the nature of the game, the
history, intelligence and everything else and then make a charge
accordingly; in other words, that it requires a certain level
of policing. It must be judged on the basis of need rather than
as a penalty.
Q498 Chairman: Do you think that
would be a solution?
Mr Otter: It could be a solution.
One has to be careful not to create a bureaucratic nightmare that
Chairman: Chief Constable, thank you
very much for coming to address our session.