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Use of Breathalyser Tests in Licensed Premises Grows

Licensing enforcement officers, Police licensing officers and operators will have been following the increased use of breathalysers at licensed premises. The joint scheme between Northamptonshire Police and Pub Watch in Northampton town centre was one of the first pilots of breathalysers to sift entrants in to licensed premises.

In that example, if people were found to be over the limit of 80 micrograms per 100ml of breath (which is more than twice the limit for driving) they may be refused entry.

This scheme was based on a similar scheme that had been carried out in Norwich, where the Police suggested that it had helped to achieve a 32% reduction in violent crime in the town.

However, plans by Birmingham bars and clubs to cut violence by breathalysing customers before they are allowed in to the premises met with a chorus of derision.

Forty one venues signed up to a Police and council backed scheme for Broad Street, Digberth and Hurst Street.

The scheme was overwhelmingly opposed with more than 400 comments on the Birmingham Males Facebook page, with many suggesting that the licensing authorities were treating customers like criminals. The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers (ALMR) said the following: – “We are concerned at the widespread and indiscriminate use of breathalysers in licensed premises and believe that machines are not an appropriate or effective substitute for trained staff in spotting vulnerable customers or diffusing drunken situations calmly.

In our experience the use of a breathalyser is likely to inflame or incite aggravation. This is supported by large numbers of comments made by consumers in recent trials where requests to breathalyse guests have caused offence, with people feeling they are being treated as criminals, and aggressive behaviour towards our door teams.”

Passing comment after considerable research, the ALMR went on to say, “There is no clear evidence that breathalysers reduce violence or crime and while they may have a role to play in deterring drunkenness, that is the context of policing a town centre, not a hospitality environment. We all have a shared objective of promoting a great safe night out, but this initiative sends all the wrong signals to those guests looking for that, in fact it sends exactly the opposite message and implies that the venue or town centre is a no go zone – that is a retrograde step.”

Notwithstanding the criticism other locations have been pushing ahead with the use of a breathalyser test to allow entry in to premises. We have heard of other tests in Shrewsbury, Torquay and York. We have even heard of situations where operators have been threatened with a review of their premises licence if they do not trial the breathalysers voluntarily.

We would of course not condone such threats being issued by Police licensing teams.

I decided to have a look again at this when it was announced in the press this week that a McDonalds in Cambridge, that opens 24 hours, will start to implement breathalyser tests for customers who want to eat inside the restaurant.

Anyone who blows twice the legal driving limit will be denied entry. It is understood that the Cambridge McDonalds is located close to many bars and clubs making it a hot spot for local students and partygoers. The Police have stated that they want people to enjoy themselves and not have their night ruined. Anyone turned away will be given an information leaflet on the dangers of excessive drinking. There have been criticisms by local people of the scheme suggesting that this is a “flagrant and horrific violation of human rights”. Not to be deterred by the criticism, the Police in Cambridge have persuaded Cambridge United Football Club to become one of the first football clubs in the country to start using breathalysers in an attempt to tackle alcohol related crime and disorder. The scheme is funded by Police and Crime Commissioner, Sir Graham Bright, and provides breathalyser kits to security staff allowing them to test people before entry to the ground.

The breathalysers are not used as a requirement to entry, but rather a tool to support security staff who often become the victims of drunken aggressive behaviour.

“It is hoped the scheme will combat alcohol misuse and subsequent anti-social or criminal incidents.” Sir Graham said: “The trend these days is for people to pre-load with alcohol at home before heading out. The result of this can be that people are very drunk towards the end of the evening, putting themselves and others at risk. I want people to enjoy a night out but to do so responsibly. Increasingly, the Police and Health Service are required to deal with the consequences of excessive drinking and I hope this scheme will reduce the number of people who get in to trouble as a result of their drinking.”

We will continue to monitor this growing trend in relation to the use of breathalysers at licensed premises. There are considerable concerns as to the potential negative impact in relation to their introduction, particularly if operators are being almost forced to use them with the threat of having to defend an expensive review if they don’t.