A POLICE chief has attacked parents for encouraging their children to abuse alcohol because they view it as less dangerous than drugs. Northern Constabulary has become the first in Scotland to trial a scheme where off-licences use ultraviolet pens to mark bottles and cans with a code so police can track down where alcohol has been illegally bought by under-18s.
Police hope finding the source will allow them to snare off-licence owners who are breaking the law, or lead them to arrest older teenagers who often buy alcohol for those who are under-age.
Chief Inspector Paul Eddington, the operational commander for Ross, Cromarty and Skye, who is behind the scheme, is frustrated that some parents view their children drinking as less dangerous than smoking cannabis.
He said: "We've lost the thread somewhere when parents come up to our front counter demanding the bottle of wine we've confiscated from their youngster, as has happened to us. It's very frustrating when this minority are rather upset we've taken alcohol off their 14-year-old bundle of joy. Parents need to know what their children are up to and speak to them about their responsibilities.
"The parents have as much, if not more, responsibility than police officers, who are not here to babysit youngsters on Friday and Saturday nights when they are let loose in towns. A lot of the time they don't have a clue where their children are or what they are up to.
"We are increasingly finding some parents are saying, well at least they are not taking drugs'. To be perfectly honest, to a 14-year-old a half-bottle of vodka is probably more lethal than a puff of cannabis. They can't seem to see that."
His comments echoed those of Helen Newlove, who spoke out last week after the drunken teenagers who kicked her husband to death in Warrington, Cheshire, were convicted. Newlove called for parents to be jailed if they can't stop their children getting high on drink and drugs like those who killed her husband.
Eddington said that people needed to be taught that alcohol can be as destructive as drugs after his division's latest figures showed the problem is as bad in rural communities as urban areas. His officers confiscated alcohol, including a high level of spirits which appeared to have been taken from family drinks supplies, from 490 youths last year and in another 50 cases after groups had been dispersed. The figures are exceptional because only about 50,000 people live in the mainly rural communities.
Eddington said that the age of the children being arrested was coming down. "We're getting children as young as 11 or 12, and regularly 14-year-olds, under the influence of drink," he said.
"We kickstarted the bottle-marking scheme after convincing licensees it was in their interests. The ultraviolet pen is visible under a special light and enables our officers to know which off-licence could have sold, say, 10 bottles of beer. It gives us a start if we can identify the source, but hopefully it will also make alcohol more difficult for youngsters to get hold of."
Wanda Mackay, a youth development worker at the Princes Trust-backed Cromarty Youth Cafe on the Black Isle, said that, in some cases, young people and their parents were reluctant for them to take part in education projects.She said: "They think older people are making judgements about them, and think people are picking on them. They have seen the older people drinking and think they should be able to do it too."
Mackay, whose group has received UKP20,000 from Highland Council and Lloyds TSB's charitable fund to provide other activities for youngsters, advocates harm reduction to avoid placing young people - who she said would always find ways of experimenting with alcohol - in unnecessary danger.
She added: "Not all young people who are drinking are causing problems, but it's not good for them to be drinking in a cold or wooded area alone. We had a girl left by her fellow drinkers when she was drunk. She'd have been found dead if she hadn't been found in the dark."
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake
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Pubdate: Sun, 20 Jan 2008
Source: Sunday Herald, The (UK)
Copyright: 2008 Sunday Herald
Author: John Bynorth
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