Give local authorities a power and they abuse it. We have seen it with RIPA terror laws and the creation of largely useless CCTV systems:
now the right to drink in public is being systematically attacked across the country by local authorities using powers to stop people having a good time in a park or a picnic with their friends.
The Manifesto Club last week produced a report which showed that 712 local authorities have introduced drink free zones, enabling police officers and the ridiculous community support officers – when are these people going to be made to find proper jobs? – to confiscate alcohol on the mere suspicion that someone is going to break the law. The Manifesto Club, which is by the way becoming one of the significant voices of reason and liberty in Britain, estimates that 20,000 bottles or cans will be confiscated in July and August this year. Brighton has enforced bans on people carrying unopened bottles of wine and beer which they plan to drink at home, Lambeth Council plans to make the entire borough the subject of a designated public place order(DPPO), while Camden has a borough wide ban except for Regents Park, Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath. "These zones cover large areas of cities and town centres, beaches and parks and they are increasing at a rate of around 100 per year," says the report. "It is not illegal to drink in a DPPO, but it is a criminal offence to continue drinking after a police officer has asked you to stop."
These powers, brought in by yet another poorly-drafted piece of Labour legislation, the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, are being used by councils to prevent the very people they serve from enjoying themselves. It has been acknowledged by the Home Office, never the first to leap to the defence of liberty, that they are being abused. Last year they issued a guidance, which stressed DPPOs should only be used to tackle problem areas.
The advice states, "These powers are not intended to disrupt peaceful activities, for example families having a picnic in a park or on the beach with a glass of wine. Our advice is that it is not appropriate to challenge an individual consuming alcohol where that individual is not causing a problem. Bodies responsible for introducing and enforcing DPPOs must keep in mind section 13 of the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001 which makes it clear that this power is to be used explicitly for addressing nuisance or annoyance associated with the consumption of alcohol in a public place."
The Manifesto Club has collected experiences from across the country which shows that section 13 is being ignored. This is from Daniel Stamp in Colchester, "I had just received my A-Level results along with several of my friends, and we wanted to spend the rest of our day enjoying some cold beer in Colchester's Castle Park. A park-keeper employed by the local council intervened, and poured our drinks away. He apparently has the power to confiscate drink from anyone found consuming alcohol in the park grounds."
Brighton, which employs 45 community support officers who are making 25 confiscations a week is among the worst offenders and clearly does not care about its tourist trade. Nancy Lloyd from Brighton said, "We were sitting on the beach – we were going to go out later. The police said, 'You shouldn't be drinking here' and made us pour it away. From what they said, I thought it was banned to drink in public."
Another resident recounts, "A group of us were hanging out in a pedestrianised street in Brighton celebrating a birthday with a few drinks.
"The community police officers came round, and emptied everyone's drinks into the drains. None of us were causing a disturbance or hassling anyone – indeed there were a couple of excellent buskers on the street and a few people dancing Latin-style."
Public drinking can be nuisance but on the vast majority of occasions it is simply a matter of people exercising their lawful right to drink what is lawfully theirs, and councils have no business depriving people of that right. The confiscation of alcohol is theft and this programme of joyless illegality needs to be stopped in its tracks. In the meantime, all those who have an eye for liberty and want to drink responsibly in public should avoid Brighton, a wonderful town which just needs to push its petty–minded officials into the drink.
Source - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/henryporter/2009/jun/29/booze-bans-local-authorities
By Henry Porter