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Cheers - AE

Friday, 26 June 2009

Alcohol free zones.

One of the things that annoys me a little bit about Australia is the use of alcohol free zones. I'm really not a big drinker and I've never actually wanted to drink any time I've been in an alcohol free zone, but nonetheless it annoys me that they say I must not drink if I did want to. The reason it annoys me is that it struck me that alcohol free zones probably come about for one of two reasons. First is that in remote parts of Australia they've got some areas with serious rates of alcohol abuse among indigenous Australians, and so the paternalistic, if not borderline racist, approach is simply to ban alcohol. If you're an aborigine who likes the occasional beer, or anyone else for that matter, tough. But be comforted by the knowledge that the ban is there for your protection even if you're responsible and have no need of it. The second problem is one that the UK is familiar with, that of people out on the lash not knowing when to stop and being a drunken pains in the arse. In this case a ban is there because... well, frankly I'm not sure. I don't know what Australian police forces used to do but English ones used to deal with people who were too pissed and causing trouble simply by nicking them and letting 'em sober up in the cells overnight. I'm sure this still happens a lot, but I've been out on Friday and Saturday nights in England and from what I've personally seen it seems that you've got to work quite hard to get arrested. Well, I'm not a copper and it's probably not for me to say whether the softly softly approach is better than rounding up the pissheads and locking them up for the night. What I can say is that restricting the freedom of the majority because of the misbehaviour of a few just because it's easier for the authorities is never satisfactory.

And because this annoys me about Australia I was disappointed, though far from fucking surprised, to read that the UK now has over 700 alcohol free zones and is adding more at the rate of about 100 per year. And what really infuriates me is the way the law, the police and the councils are going about it (my bold):
Once a control zone is in place, police can seize alcohol from anyone who is not on licensed premises, even if the bottles or cans are unopened.
Got that? So you might simply be carrying some beer between your house and your mate's where you intend to have a few drinks while watching the game on TV, but despite only intending to drink the beer in private it's liable to be confiscated if you need to walk through an alcohol free zone. If your house is actually in an alcohol free zone you might even be fucked carrying it from the boot of the car to your own doorstep. In fact, private houses aren't licensed either. Can they...? No, surely not. There must be an exception for private homes that The Times hasn't mentioned in the article. Mustn't there?
Although drinking is not banned in the zones, police can ask anyone to stop drinking and it is an offence to refuse, punishable by a maximum £500 fine. No explanation or suspicion that the person could be a public nuisance is required. The highest fine will soon rise to £2,500.
In other words there are no fixed goalposts, no line which you can learn about and stay on the right side of, it's all up to whichever cop you happen to encounter. "Looking at me in a funny way" and "walking around with an offensive wife" might not get you arrested Constable Savage style but it might well get your booze taken away, and they don't have to tell you why they're doing it. Okay, it's not Fingermen style police state stuff, but I'd say it's very much in keeping with the "soft police state" that Britain has become.
Laws giving local authorities the power to set up the zones, or “designated public place orders”, were introduced in 2001 at the height of government concern over public drunkenness. The law made clear that the zones should cover only streets or city centre areas with a record of alcohol-related disorder or nuisance.

There are now 712 zones, some covering vast areas where there is no record of disorder. There are city-wide bans in Coventry and Brighton, which cover even the quietest suburban streets. Birmingham tried to introduce a city-wide ban but had to back down in the face of public opposition. Instead it is introducing the drinking zones gradually across the city.
Another example, if one were needed, of the way a law is brought in with one intention, but how it doesn't take long before its use becomes more widespread or even extended to include uses that were never originally intended*.
Research on the zones has been conducted by The Manifesto Club, a campaign group that challenges what it sees as excessive regulation.

It found that police are routinely ignoring Home Office guidelines and confiscating bottles of wine and beer from peaceful picnickers and other adults having a quiet drink outdoors.
Well, it's a lot fucking easier than trying to get the booze off a violent drunk. And since that probably entails getting the booze out of the violent drunk half the time there's also the risk of puke all over the uniform that's easily avoided by bullying some middle aged accountant and his family off their bottle of Pinot Gris instead. Still, nice to know there are some fucking guidelines, even if that's all they are and if they're pretty meaningless if the police do indeed have no need to justify confiscation of alcohol.
In some cases, drinks have allegedly been seized by police from adults who have just bought them from an off licence and are on their way home.
I saw that coming by the third paragraph, didn't I? And here's how it happens:
Dan Travis was leaving an off-licence in Brighton at 7pm with two cans of Kronenberg in his hand when two community support officers asked him to stop ...
Ah, yes, PCSOs, the plastic plods. We all know they'd never get too big for their boots, but see here for an example of a PCSO getting too big for his boots. Okay, sarcasm aside, I'm prepared to believe that most are okay and not simply failed police wannabees with humungous fucking chips on each shoulder (which probably makes hiding their numbers easier), but come on - bad enough to be an innocent drinker harming nobody and have your booze confiscated by a real copper, but having it taken by a plastic plod is really dripping piss into the wound.
“They asked me if I knew about alcohol restriction zones and I said I didn’t,” said Mr Travis, a tennis coach. “They said, ‘We have to stop people who we think are drinking, not just drunk’. I pointed out that the cans were not even open, and they said that didn’t matter because they thought I was going to drink them in a public place. They asked me to pour it down the drain.”
What. A. Pair. Of. Bastards.

Okay, so we've established that it's not actually illegal to drink in the zones, but that even a PCSO - not actually a real cop for the benefit of any Aussies who may happen to read this - who merely thinks that someone with alcohol, even someone behaving reasonably, responsibly and FUCKING LEGALLY, might open one up and drink it - not actually illegal, remember - can order the booze to be tipped into the drain. No need to prove a fucking thing, and no need for an actual crime to have been committed.

What a fabulous bit of law for the police state. What a wonderful precedent to have set. Bad enough that you're so prone to being done for a victimless crime in Britain now, but they had to go and come up with the fucking bright idea of a crimeless crime - or at least a crimeless punishment. I can just imagine what's coming...

"Hey, you, get out of the BMW, it's being confiscated because we think you might drive a bit fast on the way home. Not necessarily over the limit, but a bit on the quick side, know what we mean? So we're having it, just to be sure. What's that? You were going to get a cab anyway? Well, they all tell us that. Sorry, but we still think you might drive it and might have a little lead in your boot. Go to the pound with 200 quid and you can collect it, only if you take our advice you'll leave it till Wednesday. The Sarge likes to get people coming out of the pound and he's off Wednesday. Now let's have the keys, sir. Mind how you go."

Ridiculous? I fucking hope so, but in principle how's it different from taking confiscating alcohol from someone who's not drunk, who has done nothing wrong and hasn't even opened it, all because a copper or plastic plod thinks - thinks! - that they might drink it. Well, fuck, I might buy a load of fertilizer and diesel to mix together, which could be a fucking sight worse than the wanton possession of an unopened sixpack. Yet while I'm sure the police are keeping an eye out for anyone buying tons of fertilizer and thousands of litres of DERV (and not having either a farm or a lot of agricultural plant or any other plausible reason for wanting the stuff**) I doubt Britain's finest have staked out garden centres and filling stations up and down the country to harass anyone with a vegetable patch and/or a diesel engined car. But they will more or less do something similar to drinkers. Welcome to police state Britain.

* The paranoid might suggest that quite often it fucking well is intended, it's just not spoken of publicly.
**Not that having a plausible reason should become a requirement to buy or anything. Just that a farmer with a couple of dozen fields buying enough fertilzer to use on, say, give or take 24 fields and enough diesel to plough and sow somewhere between, ooooh let's say 20 and 30 fields, probably isn't a cause for concern.


JuliaM said...

It helps that people in the UK are conditioned to passivly accept the actions of those in authority. Let's see them try this sort of thing in Texas.

In fact, let me buy shares in an ammunition company first!

Angry Exile said...

I don't know Julia. The septics tried it across the whole bloody country in 1919. And there are still plenty of places today where our American cousins tend towards the abstemious, if not the positively uptight. But you're quite right that the Yanks are a better at asking why government is restricting their freedom to live as they want to than the Brits, despite the influence the English Bill of Rights and common law had on them. Aussies are better too usually, despite a fair bit of petty regulation and annoying "low level" authoritarianism. Both are a long way from perfect, but rather better than what Britain is becoming.

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