Under age drink problem under spotlight

UNDER-age drinking in pubs and nightclubs has been a problem for licensees for many years. Evening Star reporter GEORGINA JAMES went out on the night-time beat to see how the police and clubs are teaming up to tackle the teens.

UNDER-age drinking in pubs and nightclubs has been a problem for licensees for many years. Evening Star reporter GEORGINA JAMES went out on the night-time beat to see how the police and clubs are teaming up to tackle the teens.

IT'S big problem for a doorman or a landlord – just how old is the person who is asking for a drink.

Dolled up for a night out on the town, girls in their mid-teens can pass easily for early 20s.

Dressed in the same clothes as those slightly older than themselves, wearing make-up, brimming with confidence and possibly on the arm of a man in his late teens or 20s, in the soft lights of a nightclub, it is impossible to tell.

It is harder for lads, whose features don't change so quickly as they grow up, but many still pass easily into nightclubs before they reach the magic age of 18.

Under-age drinking is no more of a problem in Felixstowe than it is in any other town according to both police and nightclubs.

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But it still goes on – and the police and the club owners are keen to do what they can to stop it.

There have been complaints that not enough is being done, that police are not acting with enough force to tackle the teens, that club staff are too quick to serve alcohol without raising suspicion.

One Felixstowe woman who enjoys the resort's nightlife said the clubs regularly let 15 and 16-year-olds in and that the police turn a blind eye.

"I often see children in the clubs who should not be there. I have seen kids that I know in the clubs on a Friday and Saturday night who are as young as 15," said grandmother, Nina Garnham, of Cricket Hill Road.

"It's disgraceful and both the police and parents don't do anything to stop it and turn a blind eye,"

However, police disagree and say they are working very closely with the clubs and feel that the close relationship they have forged has helped to stop a number of under age teenagers from getting in to the town's nightclubs.

Town and seafront beat officer Pc Richard Durrant, said: "Felixstowe is no different to anywhere else and we don't have a serious problem. Unfortunately underage drinking goes on in every town but we are doing our very best to reduce it as much as possible."

It is midnight, cold and blustery on Felixstowe seafront as the wind whips in off the sea, but the clubs are packed with people having a good time, celebrating the end of another week at work.

There may be under 18s among them, but it is extremely difficult to tell.

It's also very difficult for parents to stop their children going to clubs, however much advice they might give them. They can leave school at 16 and have virtually all the freedom they want – except for drinking in nightclubs.

Murdered schoolgirl Vicky Hall was still only 17 when she went to the Bandbox the night she was abducted and killed.

But Vicky was only a few weeks short of her 18th birthday and would have passed for older – her parents spoke later of the difficulties in keeping in a 17 year old blossoming into a young woman and wanting to exercise her independence.

Vicky was not alone, and many of her school friends also enjoyed the clubs and were the same age.

Pc Durrant is visiting the clubs to keep up contact with the owners and the doormen, see if they have any problems, and give them the latest information on under-age drinkers.

His visits to Central Park, the Bandbox, and The Wave, are regular and friendly, part of building up a good relationship and a trust which can help make sure everyone has a good time without problems.

At The Bandbox on Bent Hill, manager Mark Mossley's staff are keeping a look-out for anyone who might be obviously under-age.

"We ask anyone who looks under the age of 21 for identification. If they haven't got any then it's simple – they don't get in," said Mr Mossley.

For the past year police and door staff have had a radio link which is used by door staff to alert police of any trouble and those using fake ID as a means of getting in the club.

The task of establishing whether someone is under-18 is made harder due to the growing availability of fake identification cards available via the internet. Youngsters download them on their computers at home, print them up and get them laminated.

Pc Durrant said: "We are aware of the various cards that can be down-loaded from the internet and have issued replica cards to door staff to keep them up-to-date of the one's on the market.

"The clubs are very pro-active and strict on the type of ID they accept and confiscate any which they believe to be fake."

Lorraine Mossley, manager of Central Park, in Sea Road, said: "We know which are fake and only accept ID cards where the photo has been scanned on.

"We also have the radio link with the police and the Bandbox which allows us to warn each other about people we have turned away so that they can do the same."

Police say that they regularly carry out spot checks on the clubs and monitor who they let in and how often they ask for identification.

Pc Durrant said: "We are extremely satisfied with the way the clubs handle this difficult problem."

One organisation which works to prevent alcohol misuse by young people is The Portman Group, which can provide 18 years olds with a Proof of Age Card. It has also worked with licensees and gives out a free Saying No To Underage Drinkers booklet and educational materials to schools.

"In May 1990, we launched Prove It!, a national, voluntary Proof of Age Card scheme. The scheme helps licensees to protect their licence and helps those aged over 18 – but who may not look their age – to prove they are legally entitled to buy alcohol," said a spokesman.

"Every application must be sponsored by a responsible adult – doctor, teacher, magistrate etc – and the age of every applicant is verified. The scheme has been a great success with over 400,000 cards issued.

"We believe that education is the key to tackling alcohol misuse and that responsible attitudes should be encouraged at a young age."

The Portman Group says other suitable proofs include the photocard driving licence or a full ten-year passport, but it warns that student cards are too easy to obtain fraudulently.

WEBLINK: www.portman-group.org.uk