Police are cracking down hard on underage drinking at country halls and rural events in a new initiative that officers say is in response to complaints from members of the public about the scale of the problem.
On Saturday night 22 under-age drinkers between the ages of 13 and 17 were caught with alcohol at a disco at the Hamnavoe hall. Ten bottles of beer were taken from one 14 year old and a 15 year old girl had to be returned to the care of her mother after being found in a “heavily intoxicated state”. In all, police seized 18.5 litres of drink.
Police are also taking along alcohol test strips which enable them to test soft drinks which they suspect may contain alcohol when they visit halls.
The initiative follows concerns about the number of young people under the age of 18 attending community halls heavily under the influence of alcohol as well as the amount of drinking going on outside halls.
Reports from various halls revealed there were no door stewards to control entry to events and often no age check, with the result that youngsters can readily get into events promoted as “over 16 only”.
Lerwick police Inspector Angus Macinnes, newly arrived in the isles, described his first trip to a rural hall recently as an “eye-opener” with the amount of underage drinking being “alarming”. He said: “Things going on in the periphery gave me, as a police officer, concern.”
Inspector Macinnes said it was not the police’s intention to be “killjoys” but that recovering some 92 units or 18.5 litres of alcohol from underage drinkers in Burra was a worrying symptom.
He said the police force realised it was an ingrained problem which has been going on for many, many years but that it was vital to make serious attempts to tackle the level of drinking among people under the age of 18.
One of the biggest problems, he suggested, was that while underage drinking was nothing new, recent years have seen an increasing number of petty crimes and acts of vandalism as a result of youngsters’ alcohol intake.
“We don’t want to spoil anybody else’s fun, but [the fact that] people have been drinking at events does not excuse anti-social behaviour.”
The aims of the police initiative are to obtain intelligence to enable them to identify “hot spots” used by underage drinkers, target individuals and licensed premises who supply alcohol to them and to report them to the appropriate authorities.
The initiative will also involve educating school pupils on the dangers of alcohol and other substance misuse.
Sergeant Jason Beeston of Lerwick police said that information from the public was vital and appealed for anyone who knows where and when underage people are drinking and who supplied them to contact the police.