Binge-drink Britain faces crackdown under Tories

EXCLUSIVE: Britain's binge-drinking culture will be targeted under a Tory government as part of a new war on anti-social behaviour dubbed the "21st century version of a clip around the ear", warns Shadow Home Secretary Chris Grayling.

A review of Labour's unpopular 24-hour licences could see all-day drinking curtailed as Conservatives get to grips with the alcoholism of young vandals which leaves thousands of communities "under siege".

In a wide-ranging interview with the Yorkshire Post, Mr Grayling also raised the possibility of scrapping police community support officers (PCSOs) – neighbourhood police with no power of arrest – as part of a shake-up that would see the introduction of month-long curfews and "non-criminalising community penalties".

The senior Tory outlined an action plan he would implement if the party wins the next General Election – which must be held by next June – that would include freeing police from red tape and giving them new powers to intervene in anti-social behaviour short of criminalisation.

"I want to give the police more immediate powers and am looking at the concept of grounding orders, allowing officers in consultation with magistrates to effectively put a curfew on a young person for up to a month," he said.

"I'm also working on the detail of a new non-criminalising community penalty at the moment which will, for example, force a young person caught kicking down a neighbour's fence to spend two Saturdays picking up litter in the local park.

"I want to punish young people when they've committed a misdemeanour, but I don't want to criminalise them so that 10 years later they have difficulty getting a job."

Mr Grayling said the Tories were committed to a review of the 24-hour licensing regime and was particularly keen to cut down on the over-proliferation of late-night off-licences and pubs serving under-aged children, for which there would be a three strikes and you're out policy.

"I don't want to go back to the point where every pub closed at 10.30pm, but I'm unpersuaded by the idea that having a large number of pubs open to 3am or 4am is leading to the creation of the continental-style cafe culture that Tony Blair used to talk about."

Mr Grayling said the fourth prong of his strategy was to reduce the number of cautions for serious crimes such as assault and drug dealing, offences which he said should instead automatically result in prosecution.

"What we're proposing is the 21st century version of the clip around the ear. We can't do it the traditional way any more, but I do think that the system should have the power to say 'no, that is not acceptable' and there to be consequences of anti-social behaviour.

"I want to see more people who commit serious acts before the courts and potentially in prison, but I also want to see fewer getting there because we get to them early with punishments that send a message to them saying 'you cannot get away with doing this'."

A crackdown on anti-social behaviour will be welcomed by campaigners in Yorkshire. Last month Humberside Police revealed it had dealt with 50,501 incidents of such behaviour in the 12 months to March this year – figures likely to be replicated in many other parts of the region.

In 2007/08 Yorkshire had the second highest total recorded crime rate in England, with 101 crimes recorded per 1,000 people. Only London had a higher crime rate with 116 crimes recorded per 1,000 people.

Mr Grayling said he had not yet decided whether to do away with PCSOs, deemed toothless by many but welcomed by others as a visible deterrent against crime in the neighbourhood.

"Doing away with PCSOs is something I'm looking at at the moment. I'm minded to say that decisions about their futures should be taken locally but it's not something I've reached a settled view on yet."

But he was clear that anti-social behaviour would be his top priority in office.

"There is a sense in some communities that they are under siege – not 24 hours a day, seven days of the week, but for very significant periods of time. I have met people who feel that the level of anti-social behaviour in their area has reached a point when it is causing them real misery in their lives.

"They are profoundly frustrated that there is nothing being done about it and it is up to us to clamp down."

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