Christmas spirit off limits as police halt shops' mulled wine tradition
POLICE have used anti-social behaviour laws to stop shopkeepers handing out mulled wine to customers as part of a village's Christmas celebrations.
Traders are angry that officers from Fife Constabulary moved in to stamp out a practice that has been a tradition in Anstruther for 17 years.
They have been told they must apply for an alcohol licence in future for the event, which begins the East Neuk community's festive season.
Police said shopkeepers were sending out the "wrong message" when officers were trying to tackle alcohol abuse and underage drinking in the area.
The festive tipple was handed out by several shops when they stayed open late two weeks ago.
Martin Dibley, the secretary of the Royal Burgh of Kilrenny, Anstruther and District Community Council, said: "It's a bit of 'bah, humbug'."
Mr Dibley, who runs a pet shop in the village, said: "In a small community you know your customers, who are also your neighbours, and this was to thank them for a year's business. I found the police's action a wee bit strange, but then we live in strange politically correct times."
Another trader said: "Giving adults a glass of spicy mulled wine to celebrate Christmas can hardly be compared to throwing vodka down a teenager's throat. The whole thing was hardly done in the Christmas spirit."
Elizabeth Gordon, who lives in the village, said police were telling shop owners they would "nick" them if they gave out mulled wine.
She added: "Meanwhile, I saw three young people pouring their Buckfast into lemonade bottles up the street. Where were the police then?"
However, the police said they had to be even handed.
Inspector David Brown said: "Preventing misuse of alcohol is a key commitment of Fife Constabulary and requires rigorous enforcement of the by-laws banning drinking and carrying of open containers of alcohol in public places.
"While our emphasis is on using the by-laws to target alcohol abuse and underage drinking in the Anstruther area, it would send out the wrong message if we were to permit drinking in public for other groups of people.
"However, groups organising events where alcohol is to be served either indoors or outdoors can apply for an occasional licence from the licensing board.
"This is an inexpensive option which ensures they can enjoy their event and we can continue to tackle the underage drinking and anti-social behaviour, which we know is a source of concern for the whole community."
Elizabeth Riches, a local councillor who lives in the village, said the police found themselves in an awkward position.
She said: "They probably had to act when they heard about this. It's regrettable, but they are damned if they do and damned if they don't."
DRINKING in public places has been banned in many areas of Scotland under local by-laws.
The restriction was introduced by local authorities following a successful experiment in parts of Galashiels, Motherwell and Dundee 15 years ago.
It now covers around 500 towns and villages across the country.
The ban was introduced after ministers agreed that public drinking could adversely affect the quality of life for residents.
Some councils have gone further, with South Ayrshire banning the possession of an open container of alcohol in a designated place.
This is intended to avoid the difficulty of proving that someone had been drinking if they were not seen to be doing so.
The Scottish Government said such bylaws have significantly reduced the nuisance and disorder associated with public drinking.
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