Bars face glass ban in violence crackdown

Key points

• Plans to make pubs safer by banning glasses

• Moves are prompted by 40% increase in attacks

• Publicans not happy, but authorities see it as only way to stop attacks

Key quote

"People might say this sends out the wrong image about the city but what kind of image does it send out when you have people walking around who have been scarred from a glassing or bottle attack." - Donald Urquhart, head of the local authority's antisocial behaviour division

Story in full

GLASSES and bottles face being banned from Edinburgh's pubs and clubs under plans to tackle the soaring number of violent attacks fuelled by drink.

Alcohol will have to be served in plastic containers or metal cans under the plans drawn up by city officials to make all licensed premises glass-free.

The move comes after the number of glass and bottle attacks in the city soared by 40 per cent last year.

A similar ban is about to be rolled out across Glasgow after a pilot scheme involving nightclubs was credited with bringing about a dramatic drop in the number of such incidents throughout the city centre.

But bar owners in Edinburgh have vehemently criticised the idea, saying the scheme is unnecessary, costly and will spoil the image of some of the Capital's upmarket bars.

The plan to strip any pub or club which refuses to replace all its glasses of its drinks licence will be discussed by the Capital's licensing board in the coming months. Donald Urquhart, who is the head of the local authority's antisocial behaviour division, is behind the idea, which he believes will have a dramatic and positive effect on street violence in the centre of the Capital.

He said: "Quite simply, doing this in Edinburgh would reduce the incidences of serious assault by a beer glass or bottle.

"It might not completely eradicate the problem but it would certainly have a major impact, and for that reason alone it should be done.

"Although they are not supposed to be allowed to, many people are leaving licensed premises in Edinburgh with glasses or bottles and using them as weapons.

"Plastic glasses are regularly used at events like the Highland Games and rugby matches and it strikes me that the important thing is what you are drinking and not what you are drinking from. These things are easy weapons and anything that reduces the number of incidents has to be a good thing.

"People might say this sends out the wrong image about the city but what kind of image does it send out when you have people walking around who have been scarred from a glassing or bottle attack."

Under the plans, all glasses would be phased out and the licensed premises would have to pour the contents of bottles into plastic containers before serving them to customers.

The latest police figures show glass-related assaults inside pubs and clubs in the Capital have risen dramatically in the space of 12 months, from 50 in 2004 to 70 in 2005, with the number of premises involved doubling from 26 to 52.

The actual number of incidents is believed to be much higher than the figures recorded.

Glassing incidents which happen in the streets after people leave pubs and clubs are not included in the official figures.

Police and council officials also believe licensees often leave it to the victims of attacks to report incidents to the police.

Rob Finch, manager of the upmarket Bar 38 in George Street bar, said he was completely against the proposal to ban glasses.

He said: "I'm sure there are other bars that would support it, but I just don't have any trouble here to justify that. In the six months I've been manager, we've had absolutely no incidents involving glasses or bottles, not once.

"Also, it would mean a massive expense to my business to change over to plastic."

Ash Rozier, co-manager of the celebrity-favoured Boudoir Bar on Infirmary Street, which has attracted celebrities such as Hollywood actress Juliette Lewis, said plastic cups and glasses would give the wrong impression to customers.

He said: "If you go into a bar and you are being served with plastic cups it just wouldn't present a very good image.

"Not only because it will give the customer the wrong impression that the bar could maybe be a bit dangerous but they might also think the place was a bit cheap.

"We will definitely not support a ban. As a bar/restaurant, we need to have wine glasses for the restaurant."

He said Boudoir had never had any trouble involving broken glasses or bottles.

Billy Lowe, head of Saltire Taverns, one of Edinburgh's main pub and club operators, said: "At the end of the day we will have to comply with any conditions of our licences. We are going to have to confront this issue in Glasgow very shortly as it has become mandatory policy there."

He added: "I don't see much of a need for it in Edinburgh and it would certainly be a radical step if it was to include all bars as well as nightclubs, although the problem is the boundaries between the two are blurred these days and it would be impractical to start introducing plastic glasses at 10.30pm or 11pm."

One of Edinburgh's biggest nightclubs introduced plastic beer bottles last year in a bid to curb the number of violent assaults in and around the premises.

The Lothian Road nightclub, then known as Revolution, took the voluntary step after a similar policy in Glasgow city centre saw a 27 per cent drop in glass-related assaults.

Luminar Leisure, operators of the club, said the move was being made as part of the company's "social responsibility".

However it emerged earlier this year that there will still more glass attacks inside the club than at any other licensed premises in the city.

Five glass-related assaults - four involving bottles and one involving a glass - were reported to the police in the space of 12 months amid fears that hooligans were drinking in other bars and smuggling in the containers to use as weapons.

Within months of the figures being revealed, Luminar Leisure revealed plans for a complete overhaul of Revolution, to transform it from a commercial dance club to a live rock music venue.

Jim Donnelly, a senior officer at the city council's licensing enforcement section, said: "Plastic glasses are not popular with the trade, but from a safety point of view we would definitely like to see them introduced across the board.

"Some venues do have them in the city, but it's done on very much a voluntary basis and what bars and clubs tend to say is that customers particularly prefer to drink straight from a glass bottle."

But Edinburgh's licensing convener Phil Attridge said he remained to be convinced of the arguments for the introduction of an all-out glass ban in the Capital.

He said: "Glasgow has a horrendous record of glass-related assaults and is totally different to Edinburgh. I don't really see the need for this in regular bars.

"Can you imagine having a pint of Deuchars out of a plastic glass. I can't. This sounds to me like a bit of an over-reaction."

Tom Wood, head of the Edinburgh Drug and Alcohol Action Team, said the experience in Glasgow - which is due to introduce its ban under a rolling programme over the coming months - would be the acid test for the Capital.

He said: "Bringing in plastic containers to every pub and club in the city would be an expensive business and we don't have the same level of glassing and bottle attacks in Edinburgh that there is in Glasgow."

He added: "However, it is something that is going to be on our agenda in the future and we'll be looking at how the policy works in Glasgow to see if it is worthwhile doing here."

'A fraction to the right and I'd have lost an eye'

GLASS and bottle attacks are not a new phenomenon in the city centre.

Actor Dee Sullivan, 43, who has appeared in TV's Inspector Rebus, needed surgery to rebuild his face after a real-life attack by a woman in a city centre pub five years ago.

Mr Sullivan, needed 37 stitches after a woman smashed a glass into his face in Bannermans Bar in the Cowgate, where he ran popular music nights.

The six-foot tall actor and musician was defending bar staff from a drunken couple who were demanding to be served as the Cowgate pub was closing. As Mr Sullivan tried to defuse the situation, the woman smashed a glass into the side of his face, narrowly missing his eye.

He was rushed to the Royal Infirmary after the attack, and then transferred to St John's Hospital in Livingston, where a plastic surgeon inserted 37 stitches in his wounds.

Mr Sullivan, from Liberton, said at the time: "A few millimetres to the right and I would have lost an eye. Or she could have cut an artery in my neck. I could have bled to death."

The number of bottle and glass attacks have, however, risen in Edinburgh in the last year. The problem is part of a growing trend for drunken violence in parts of the city centre, with Lothian Road a central flashpoint.

Police chiefs have repeatedly raised concerns about the levels of drink-fuelled violence in Edinburgh.

Should glasses and bottles be banned from Edinburgh's bars and nightclubs?

Edward Bowe, 29, graphics technologist, Gardner's Crescent: "It's a terrible idea. I think it's pathetic to tar everyone with the same brush and say that we're all going to cause trouble.

"I don't want to drink out of a plastic glass when I have a pint, I want a nice, proper glass and I'm not going to cause any trouble with it."

Ellen Jamieson, 77, retired, Riversdale Grove: "Anything which can reduce the terrible violence is a good thing, I think. I suppose I would get used to drinking from a plastic cup.

"They have to do the ban everywhere, otherwise it might just apply to the poor people's pubs where drinkers fight, rather than the rich people's bars."

Colin Campbell, property developer, Regent Terrace: "This is the height of stupidity. Somebody could attack another person using just a pencil. So if you ban glasses, you'd have to ban plates, knives, forks, spoons too. It's silly, silly, silly."