PC Claire McNaney works in the Alcohol Harm Reduction Unit at Durham Constabulary. Her work means she sees the damage done by cheap alcohol day-in day-out across the county.
“I see the impact that cheap alcohol is having on our communities every day. Because alcohol is so cheap to buy in supermarkets and off licences, and easy to get hold of, people are bulk buying cheap alcohol products, drinking more at home and going out into the nighttime economy later.
“Whereas pubs offer a more controlled, monitored environment, the shift in drinking habits and availability of cheap booze means people are drinking until much later in the night and incidents including violence and anti-social behaviour are resulting from high levels of intoxication.
“The majority of domestic incidents are alcohol-related, and there are also shocking examples of vulnerable people, often the homeless community or youngsters, coming to harm after drinking cheap alcohol products.
“When I was on duty I came across a group of 14 year old girls who’d been drinking cheap white cider. One of them was laid on a grass verge next to a busy road. Her trousers were around her ankles.
“Another time, a young homeless man, who was alcohol dependent and had poor mental health, was drinking strong white cider with his friends in a wood. The group lit a fire to stay warm and at some point, because he was so intoxicated from the cider, he fell into the fire.
“He wasn’t found until the next morning when a dog walker in the woods came across him. He had suffered third-degree burns on 70% of his body. He was taken into hospital and put into an induced coma while he fought for his life. The burns on his body were so bad that he had to have both of his legs amputated. He was just 34 at the time.
“These types of stories are awful to see. Many of the people who are addicted to high-strength cheap alcohol have already suffered a lot of problems in their lives and are already very vulnerable. These drinks only serve to make a bad situation worse.
“The problems stemming from these drinks are a massive burden for police and take up a lot of time. I know of colleagues, including myself, that have been bitten, kicked and spat at, all while they’re trying to do their jobs. I think officers are more cautious about their own safety, particularly when we have to deal with violent individuals who are intoxicated.
“Of course, many of the vulnerable people we try to assist are still in need of intervention, a network of support and treatment services, but making cheap alcohol products less affordable would be one step in the right direction and would discourage people from drinking as much.”