Bans on groups of youths on Portobello beach to stop brawls branded 'inflammatory'

The police were out in force at Portobello beach.
The police were out in force at Portobello beach.
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Calls for increased patrols and bans for large groups of young people have been touted as the solution to the mass brawls which blighted Portobello beach on Thursday.

Callum Laidlaw, a Conservative councillor for the Portobello and Craigmillar ward, said he wanted to see an extension of dispersal powers used by the police in November which led to nine arrests on Bonfire Night.

The suggestion of such a move was branded “inflammatory” and “foolish” by opposition councillors and described as an infringement on the rights of young people to enjoy the weather.

The mass fights on Portobello beach on Thursday, which images purported to show dozens of young people involved, led to one 16-year-old boy given a police caution, with two people treated for minor injuries following the fights.

The violence was condemned by all of the politicians, but solutions ranging from bans to improved education about the dangers of alcohol have been presented to avoid a repeat of the trouble.

The most extreme came from Cllr Laidlaw who called for the police to be given the power to move groups of young people off the beach to help prevent any potential trouble.

He also branded the behaviour of the groups of young people as “shocking” and said the police should be able to crack down harder on trouble-makers.

He said: “It is shocking that people can’t enjoy the hottest day of the year on Edinburgh’s finest beach due to anti-social behaviour and it is telling of the world we live in now. There is a need for the police to crack down much more heavily on this sort of behaviour.

The councillor added many of the children and teenagers involved in the brawls know exactly “how far they can go” before the police have to intervene, and called on members of the public to share any photos and videos of the brawl with the police in order for arrests to be made.

“There are limits to what the police can do,” he said. “Unfortunately many of the people involved are aware of how far they can go.

“I hope the people taking videos and photos share them with the police and the police make some arrests.”

He called on the police to be given the same dispersal powers which were used during Bonfire Night which banned large groups of young people gathering on the beach.

In November, police stated the additional powers allowed them to prevent any large-scale disturbances similar to the scenes on Portobello beach on Thursday.

That night, officers invoked 13 dispersal zone warnings across the north east of the city which was said to “appropriately address” issues of gathering groups of young people.

However, SNP councillor Kate Campbell branded the powers “draconian” and slammed Cllr Laidlaw for being “inflammatory”.

She said: “I think it would be foolish to jump in with draconian measures that would risk infringing on the rights of the many well behaved young people who want to get together to enjoy the sunshine and have fun during the holidays with their friends.

“All councillors received the same briefing from the police informing us they were able to contain the situation using their existing powers.

She added: “What’s important is educating young people about the effects of alcohol, and the lasting damage violence can cause, and enabling them to make better choices.

“All violence needs to be condemned, and dealt with properly by the police, but the incidents on the prom were not comparable to the type of behaviour we saw on Bonfire Night. To suggest otherwise is frankly inflammatory and very unhelpful.”

Cllr Laidlaw denied the move would be draconian, and said more powers for the police and more ‘bobbies on the beat’ would be welcomed by people in the community.

He added the powers could be in place for entire periods of hot weather and set no limit for how long such powers could be invoked, meaning young people could be banned from the beach in large groups for the entirety of a summer if the suggestion was put into practice.

He said: “When you know there is going to be a period of prolonged hot weather, a similar provision [to Bonfire Night] should be put in place to allow the police to monitor large groups of youths gathering. I think that would be helpful.

“I don’t see it as draconian, especially if the enjoyment of the beach is going to be spoiled by people causing trouble. The orders that are around Bonfire Night and I don’t see how they would not work in the summer months.

“A group of 10 friends going to the beach enjoying themes quietly is fine, but 10 people going to the beach and fighting, drinking? Police forces are well aware of the difference.

“We should enable our officers to make the right calls.”

Councillor Mary Campbell, the Green representative for Portobello and Craigmillar, said it would be an overreaction to punish the many over the actions of the few.

She said: “While the violent incident on Thursday is not what we would want to see on our beach, it was an isolated incident that involved very few young people.

“I was at the beach with my family that day and saw hundreds of young people enjoying themselves, playing sport, and relaxing on the beach.

“The actions of a few individuals should not be used to treat young people who gather in large numbers as criminal threats, needing to be moved on.”

Responding to the troubles in Portobello, chief inspector Gill Geany said: “The hot weather attracted around 200 people onto the beach and unfortunately a small number were involved in antisocial behaviour. Those involved were quickly dealt with by officers on Operation Drift, who were on patrol in the area, supported by local officers. We’d appeal to parents and guardians to speak to their children about their activities outside the home.”