Police unit backs new approach to cut alcohol-related crime

A respected police unit has given its backing to alcohol minimum pricing and called for tougher licensing laws to help tackle violent crime on Scotland's streets.

Alcohol is involved in about 70% of all violence and up to 60% of all homicides in Scotland. Picture: Getty Images
Alcohol is involved in about 70% of all violence and up to 60% of all homicides in Scotland. Picture: Getty Images

The Violence Reduction Unit (VRU) said there is currently an “over provision” of both off-licences and bars in towns and cities.

It called for the police to be given a bigger role in licensing decisions and said those who commit acts of violence under the influence should have their “right to drink” taken away from them.

Sign up to our Politics newsletter

Now part of Police Scotland, the VRU was initially set up by Strathclyde Police in 2005 and is credited with helping Glasgow shake off its “murder capital of Europe” tag by taking a public health approach to gang-related violence.

Acting director Will Linden said Scotland could not hope to import a “cafe culture” from continental Europe due to long-established problems with alcohol.

He said: “What we’d like to see is a more evidence-based approach to licensing, a move away from just the economic argument of filling up our city centres with both on- and off-sales.

“We’re not calling for closing them down just now but when new licences are considered, they should be considered based on the impact they will have on a community or local area by looking at levels of crime and levels of health and deprivation.

“Years ago people talked about Scotland having a cafe culture, but if you want that you open up cafes, you don’t open pubs. “You can’t import a European system into Scotland because this is a country which has a very different relationship with alcohol.”

The Scottish Government is currently fighting an attempt by the Scotch Whisky Association to block the introduction minimum pricing, with a hearing due to take place at the Supreme Court in London in July. Mr Linden said that alcohol is involved in about 70 per cent of all violence and up to 60 per cent of all homicides.

He said: “We should be looking at over provision because we already have too many licensed premises in Scotland. This is not about prohibition – alcohol is part of our culture – but we need a sensible debate.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “Our Framework for Action outlines a package of more than 40 measures to reduce alcohol-related harm in Scotland. These include licensing measures like minimum unit alcohol pricing, the quantity discount ban, a ban on irresponsible promotions as well as a lower drink drive limit, improved substance misuse education, and our nationwide alcohol brief intervention programme.”