Police chief talks down Buckfast ban

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A SCOTTISH police chief and a leading crime expert have said that banning caffeinated alcoholic drinks such as Buckfast would not prevent or reduce violent attacks.

• MSPs heard yesterday there is no evidence to suggest that Buckfast drinkers such as this one will turn violent, but others may exhibit less self-control Picture: Getty Images

The claim was made during a Holyrood health committee hearing on the Scottish Government's proposals to tackle alcohol abuse, which include setting a minimum unit price of 45p.

Strathclyde Police Chief Superintendent Bob Hamilton told MSPs that binge drinking was to blame for alcohol-fuelled violence rather than Buckfast, which Labour wants to ban. The comments reopened disagreements between the SNP and Labour over the Scottish Government's flagship minimum pricing policy, which is likely to be blocked by opposition parties at Holyrood.

Meanwhile, the police chief's claim that there was "no evidence" Buckfast led to soaring levels of assaults was backed by Dr Alasdair Forsyth, a senior research fellow from the Glasgow Centre for the Study of Violence.

Mr Hamilton said: "We have no evidence to support that type of caffeinated product is a cause of violence or increases violence or not. The concern for us is alcohol-related violence."

The chief superintendent said if a Buckfast ban - proposed by Labour - was introduced "you wouldn't see any great impact because I think people would drink something else". He continued: "I don't know that we would see a significant increase or decrease in violent crime.

"Violent crime is continuing to decrease and we're not seeing any real rise in Buckfast-related or caffeine-related problems.

"We don't attend many violent disturbances outside coffee shops … it's the alcohol consumption - whatever brand or make - that gives us the greatest concern."

Dr Forsyth, whose study centre is based at Glasgow Caledonian University, said there was no evidence that Buckfast fuelled violent incidents "because no-one's looked at it" to see if the tonic wine affects mood, making people more or less aggressive.

The comments from Dr Forsyth and the Chief superintendent were seized on by a leading SNP MSP, who said Labour's support for a Buckfast ban did not "stand up to scrutiny".

Michael Matheson, a member of the Scottish Parliament's health committee, said: "This was the opportunity for Labour's commission to show they had an alternative to minimum pricing and they failed abysmally.

"Even Labour's proposals for banning caffeinated drinks failed to stand up to scrutiny, with witnesses raising concerns over unintended consequences and the commission clearly lacking in evidence.It is clearer than ever that to take action to tackle Scotland's relationship with alcohol we must move forward with minimum pricing as part of our efforts to improve Scotland's health and wellbeing."

Labour's shadow health secretary, Jackie Baillie, said: "Michael Matheson is guilty of the most appalling hypocrisy.

"The SNP repeatedly say they want to build a consensus on alcohol, but then they attack anyone who disagrees with them."