Capital police blame booze for increase in violence

A police officer keeps a watchful eye on a group of drunk youths on Princes Street. Picture: Sean Bell
A police officer keeps a watchful eye on a group of drunk youths on Princes Street. Picture: Sean Bell
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The city’s police boss has warned the balance between the number of pubs and public safety is on a “knife-edge” – after an increase in serious assaults.

Chief Superintendent Mark Williams said there are links between alcohol and violent crime in the city.

As a city, we have to have a conversation about what we think is acceptable

Ch Supt Mark Williams

New statistics for April to October reveal violent crimes have gone up from 404 in the same period last year, to 420 this year.

Ch Supt Williams said: “There’s no doubt that [alcohol’s] availability and its over-provision links to a whole host of concerns. That includes violent crime, road safety, sexual offences and antisocial behaviour.

“It’s really important that, as a city, we have to have a conversation about what we think is acceptable and how we best maintain a balance between economic vitality and the safety and wellbeing of the public and visitors.

“My concern is that balance is on a knife edge. We need to see those who are responsible for managing the provision of alcohol in the city taking some responsibility.”

The majority of the listed crimes relate to serious assaults and robberies; but while robberies in Edinburgh dropped from 147 to 131, serious assaults hiked from 139 to 206.

And there had been a “general uplift” in serious assaults across the city, both in homes and in public spaces.

“Much of it is linked to alcohol and drugs and we are working really hard to try and first of all prevent it from happening, and detect those responsible for individual crimes,” Ch Supt Williams said.

The senior officer said despite hard work between city licensees and police, including the dedicated violence reduction unit, concerns remained.

Edinburgh City Council’s licensing board convener, Councillor Eric Milligan, has come under fire in recent years for approving applications despite objections from police and NHS chiefs. He previously told the News: “It’s about how much alcohol you are putting through your system, not about how many bars there are.”

The new figures published by Police Scotland reveal officers solved more than three-quarters of the serious assaults – 158, between April and October – while in the same period last year they concluded 102 cases, or 73.4 per cent.

Ch Supt Williams said: “No violent crime is acceptable, but we’re still seeing too many taking place in the first place. We’ve got to think about all the things that contribute to that.”

A licensing board spokesman said: “Factors such as current provision are taken into account when considering licensing applications.”

Tory councillor and former police officer Cameron Rose said: “I have concerns about the domination of alcohol in some parts of the night-time economy, but I’m cautious about taking the focus of the responsibility for these assaults.

“The responsibility lies with the people who commit the assaults, and although policies need to be looked at, the focus must always be principally detecting and dealing with these offenders. It’s the responsiblity of the person who assaults.”

Green councillor and licensing committee member Chas Booth said: “This increase in serious assaults is concerning, and there’s no doubt a link between violent crime and over-consumption of alcohol. We don’t currently have the right balance when it comes to alcohol policy – cheap booze and over-supply seems to be making the problem worse.”

Jennifer Curran, acting chief executive of Alcohol Focus Scotland, said: “Alcohol-related assaults are related to alcohol being more easily available.”