THE distributors of Buckfast tonic wine are taking legal action in a bid to stop anti-crime labels being stuck to bottles of the drink and have accused Scotland’s largest police force of carrying out “ethnic cleansing”.
J Chandler & Co has applied to the Court of Session to prevent bottles being labelled by Strathclyde Police, arguing that it would stigmatise the brand.
The force asks some retailers, such as convenience stores and off-licences, to apply the small, round stickers to bottles. This allows the police to track where a bottle is bought if it is then involved in a crime or found to be in the possession of an under-age drinker.
Under Freedom of Information legislation, Strathclyde Police revealed that in 2006-09, the tonic wine – which is produced by Benedictine monks in Devon – had been mentioned in 5,636 crime reports.
However, J Chandler believes it is being discriminated against, and has gone to court to stop the labelling.
Jim Wilson, a spokesman for the company, said: “We believe it is unlawful because it is discriminating against our product.
“We have the feeling that it is a form of ethnic cleansing of brands of alcohol that the police and politicians don’t like. If we went away, are they going to say the problem will disappear? It doesn’t add up.”
Mr Wilson added: “What concerns us is that the law-abiding person who buys our product and enjoys it gets stigmatised by this scheme. The police do not have figures to back up any of the reasons for this. The crime figures they have are only in relation to Buckfast, not in relation to any other drinks.”
Lawyers for J Chandler lodged papers with the Court of Session in Edinburgh yesterday, applying for an interdict against Strathclyde Police.
They will ask a judge to find that the force unlawfully encouraged retailers to label bottles of Buckfast or withdraw the product from sale. It is not clear what evidence will be presented, but if the case is deemed competent, the police will be summoned to respond.
The bottle-marking scheme, which used labels with the phrase, “Strathclyde Police bottle mark” on them, is a voluntary arrangement between the force and retailers. It is up to the latter to decide which products to place them on.
A Strathclyde Police spokeswoman said: “We haven’t received any summons yet and are unable to comment.”
However, Les Gray, former head of the Scottish Police Federation, said those behind the drink had a duty to recognise and prevent the antisocial behaviour linked to their product.
He said: “Buckfast, the distributors and the lawyers who act on behalf of the monks refuse, point blank, to take any responsibility for the antisocial behaviour that’s caused by the distribution and the consumption of Buckfast.
“They even refuse to change the glass bottles to plastic bottles despite overwhelming evidence that large areas in play parks and certain areas in Scotland are littered with this green glass.”
He added: “Buckfast is a scourge on the young folk – they drink it to excess because of the alcohol content, the caffeine content, and basically it drives them crazy. They spend half the night running amok, engaging in antisocial behaviour. It’s seen as a badge of honour for a lot of these young folk.”
Ministers, including current justice secretary Kenny
MacAskill, have highlighted Buckfast as a problem drink. The brand chalked up record sales worth more than £39 million in 2011-12.