More Done To Tackle Underage Drinking

2 March 2011, 17:37 | Updated: 9 March 2011, 16:50

Parents of some children caught drinking underage will be getting letters and visits from the police.

An initiative to tackle underage drinking could be rolled out across Suffolk. Operation Sabina was used in 2010 to deal with alcohol-related youth nuisance in Sudbury, and is being used again this year with a view to it being used across the county.

Last summer the Sudbury and Great Cornard Safer Neighbourhood Team and Babergh District Council visited schools in the area to let pupils know what powers officers can use if they find a young person with alcohol, and what effects alcohol can have on your life.

Additional officers patrolled Sudbury Town Centre on busy evenings, dealing with any alcohol-related disorder. Young people were diverted to supervised, activities like playing sport to help keep them off the streets. Anyone found with alcohol underage was dealt in conjunction with their family. Police say they hope that by doing this, it will prevent children getting prosecuted and getting a criminal record.

The scheme will now again be used by police officers and other agencies, with even more partners on board. Anti-Social Behaviour Officer, Sally Watson, explained how it will work:

“When a young person is encountered with alcohol, a letter will be sent to their parents explaining what has happened and what the law is. Most parents won’t know that their son or daughter could be prosecuted if they are caught with alcohol in a public place three times in 12 months, and it is hoped that this information will encourage them to take responsibility for their child’s actions.

On the second occasion that the child is found in possession of alcohol, members of the Safer Neighbourhood Team will visit the parents, and other agencies may get involved. An Anti-Social Behaviour Contract may be considered for the child.

If the young person is encountered with alcohol for a third time, a panel of professionals will decide the best way forward for that child. We want to help young people rather than criminalize them, so other options will be considered such as education or restorative justice. Many teenagers are very pleasant when alcohol is taken out of the equation and we want them to build on that side of their personality. But if a charge is deemed the right outcome, a prosecution will be brought.”

This process will come into play if a young person is found with alcohol – officers hope to stop this happening in the first place with a series of educational inputs ranging from interactive sessions to learn how to have a safe night out, to a film showing local people who are at various stages of the criminal justice system.

Last year Operation Sabina ran in Sudbury and Great Cornard only, but this year it will cover the whole of the Babergh district.

SNT Inspector Paul Crick said underage drinking becomes a bigger problem into the spring and summer months:

“As the weather improves and the clocks go forward at the end of March, we tend to see more young people gathering in public places and the number of complaints we receive about alcohol-related anti-social behaviour increases. We want young people to enjoy their free time, and most do not cause any problems for others. Sadly though, there are incidents of young people causing problems whilst under the influence of alcohol and they are becoming more common.

“Already this year we have seized alcohol from children aged 13 and 14 in Cox’s Park in Hadleigh and have received complaints about underage drinking at the recreation ground in Great Cornard. Officers will  patrol these areas and others where young people tend to meet; any alcohol found will be seized and the three step process will begin.

Operation Sabina was very successful last year in tackling underage drinking from all angles – this year we have a more robust method in place to help young people who consume alcohol, and more partners joining us to cover a wider area. Together we are committed to educating young people about the possible outcomes of alcohol consumption, and dealing positively with anyone found drinking underage to ensure Babergh remains a safe place.”

Following a trial period in the Babergh district, Operation Sabina will be considered for use by police and partners countywide.

Anyone experiencing anti-social behaviour in any form should contact their local Safer Neighbourhood Team on 01473 613500.