Chief inspector and councillor clash over claims police not doing enough to tackle Wisbech street drinking

Chief Inspector Mike Winters.

Chief Inspector Mike Winters. - Credit: Archant

Fenland’s chief inspector has hit back at a councillor’s claims that police are not doing enough to tackle street drinking in Wisbech.

Jonathan Farmer 06/2012

Jonathan Farmer 06/2012 - Credit: Archant

Fenland Chief Inspector Mike Winters defended police after Councillor Jonathan Farmer claimed it “came under the list of offences they can not be bothered to enforce”.

St Peter's Church, Wisbech.

St Peter's Church, Wisbech. - Credit: Archant

Chief Insp Winters said police were doing “more now than ever before” to tackle street drinking and Cllr Farmer’s observation that police were reluctant to intervene because of how it may affect unsolved crime statistics was “simply wrong”.

The issue came to a head after a concerned resident posted on community website Shape Your Place about an uncomfortable experience he had walking through Church Terrace Gardens in Wisbech on Monday evening.

The resident said: “I felt very intimidated by a group of people who had congregated in this small enclosed garden opposite the South porch of the Church – they were quite rowdy and noisy and at times appeared to be acting under the influence of cans of strong beer.

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“They were observed freely drinking from these cans and in full view of anybody walking past.

“This is not the first time that I have seen small groups of people congregate in the enclosed garden during the hours of darkness for the intended purposes of drinking strong liquor or beer, with them knowing full well that they cannot be seen by any CCTV and therefore they think they get away with it.”

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Another concerned resident said she also felt unsafe walking through the area.

Jayney said: “I too have seen groups drinking in this area, and I too, felt unsafe and intimidated whilst walking home from work.”

Cllr Farmer said, under the 1872 Licensing Act, police could arrest people who are drunk in a public place.

He said: “It is not an offence to be drinking in public. However, being drunk in a public place is an offence under the 1872 Licensing Act.

“Police are loath to use this power as it firmly comes under the list of offences they can not be bothered to enforce.

“I would suggest if you see someone who is manifestly drunk you ring the police and insist on being given a crime number.

“If there are a group of seven people ring and insist on seven individual crime numbers. The only way the police are going to be forced to take action is if the public start doing this and it causes their statistics for unsolved crime to increase.

“The police incidently are entitled to impose spot fines on drunks under the 2001 Criminal Justice and Police Act. There is no record of the police ever having done so in Wisbech.

“The courts can impose drink banning orders on individuals but again if the police are not bringing drunks before the courts then this can not happen.”

Cllr Farmer’s comments sparked an impassioned response from Inspector Robin Sissons, who pointed out three males were arrested for drunken and public order offences after disturbing the users of St Peter and St Paul Church rooms on Wednesday night.

Insp Sissons said: “This just proves that we take reports seriously and are more than happy to arrest people who are drunk, if they do not behave.

“I am looking into the matter as to why we have so many drunk people walking the streets of Wisbech.

“Is it because there is not enough support for them? Do they even know that there is support out there? There are long term health issues as well to consider.

“The police are able to clear up the mess but I would prefer to stop it happening in the first place.”

Chief Insp Winters said police were doing all it could with the resources at its disposal to tackle street drinking.

He said: “This issue is persistent within the town, not due to lack of enforcement but due to hugely complex social factors.

“We use various powers consistently with the people that we come across and are called to.

“We arrest where appropriate, use a multitude of powers, gather intelligence on who is doing what and why, and link with lots of other voluntary and statutory agencies to progress things like repatriation if that is appropriate.

“What you see is mainly the end result of exploitation in various guises and Fenland has and continues to put a massive proportion of available resources into tackling this.

“If we were not, you would be seeing a lot more than you do. Tackling the root causes is as important as the symptoms. I am actually attending parliament next week to talk about these issues which is a recognition of Fenland’s work.”

Dedicating extra resources to tackling street drinking would adversely impact on the ability of police to deal with other ties of crime, Chief Insp Winters said.

He said: “We recognise the impact on the town and feelings of safety, so despite the fact that street drinking is not in itself an offence, we still put the resources into it.

“Wisbech has more resource than any other part of Fenland. To increase any further within current capacity would mean taking staff from areas like domestic violence teams, rape teams and burglary teams.

“Trying, mischievously, to tie up massive resources with expectation that all street drinkers are arrested and taken through full criminal justice processes is nonsensical.

“It does not achieve much and puts a lot of people at risk. Simply expecting enforcement against an ever repeating problem will not create a resolution.

“Drunkenness can be an offence but it is not a home office crime category, has no effect on figures and statistics and would not affect or bother us in anyway. Cllr Farmer’s observation on this is simply wrong.

“We want to try and improve the environment as much as the readers of this do and welcome reports of incidents in the town to help us do that.

“Far from “not being bothered” we are doing more work on the broader core issues than has ever been done before.”

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