Watching over us - John Harrington speaks to Pubwatch founders

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Related tags: National pubwatch, Local pubwatch schemes, Police, Constable, Pubwatch

For almost a decade, National Pubwatch has striven to cut disorder in pubs. In an interview with JOHN HARRINGTON, the founders reflect on the body's achievements and look to the future

National Pubwatch - the organisation created in 1997 to help local pubwatch schemes - is at a crossroads.

Its dedicated founding members dream of retirement from the Herculean task of helping Britain's licensees stamp out disorder in pubs, using the "banned from one, banned from all" principle.

Meanwhile, a new era of funding is imminent. Earlier this year the British Beer & Pub Association announced plans to give National Pubwatch - a purely non-profit making organisation - enough money to fund operations for several years to come (details are yet to be decided).

The MA catches up with National Pubwatch's founding members at the Red Lion in Parliament Square - the pub managed by Jane de Vaux, wife of the group's chairman, Raoul. He's a magistrate who achieved the status of "politicians' publican" during his stint as the guv'nor at the Red Lion. Also present are Malcolm Eidmans - the organisation's honorary secretary and a former police chief superintendent - and Bill Stone, trade consultant and former licensee who is credited with the original idea of National Pubwatch.

Q How has pubwatch grown nationally since its conception?

Malcolm Eidmans: It's grown quite significantly over recent years. Our knowledge of pubwatches has expanded rapidly as they have become aware of us. We've also helped create hundreds of watches. People have come to us - police, licensees, local authorities even - to help them create and generate pubwatches.

QDo you know how many pubwatch schemes are running at the moment?

ME: We can only tell roughly by the number of subscribers to the newsletter. There must be 3,000 to 4,000 schemes across the country at least. There are thousands of schemes we don't know about because there's no requirement to register anywhere.

Bill Stone: Also there are quite a number of schemes that don't actually call themselves pubwatches.

ME: Cardiff is the classic example. They are known as the Cardiff Local Licensees' Forum. They just got in contact and asked if they can link with us even though they are not known as pubwatch. I said if you achieve your aim by banning people from pubs, you are a pubwatch by another name.

QWhat impact does pubwatch have on cutting crime at licensed premises?

ME: We get feedback from pubwatches that indicate that the start-up of a watch will generally have an impact of between 20% and 50% on crime and disorder-related issues in the area. How long that carries on for depends on the monitoring that goes on. I would say that most watches when they start up will probably achieve in excess of a 20% reduction - and that's done at nil cost in terms of policing, and a probable cost benefit to local medical care or local authority services.

Raoul de Vaux: I get phone calls, as chairman of National Pubwatch, from people saying, "Can you get my name taken off the banning list?" We don't control pubwatches like that, but it shows that pubwatch is working. Their social life revolves around going down the pub, and if they can't do it, it destroys them.

Q Why do some pubwatches fail while others succeed?

ME: The reasons for failure are lack of commitment on behalf of licensees, turnover of licensees, and lack of police and local authority support. It is also lack of support from pub companies. The fragmentation of the industry due to the Beer Orders had a massive impact. For many companies, the focus changed to survival and profit rather than dealing with issues that face the trading floor.

QDoes the industry do enough to support national and local pubwatch schemes?

ME: Over the years BII (British Institute of Innkeeping), NALHM (National Association of Licensed House Managers), Greene King, Laurel, Yates, Unique and JD Wetherspoon made quite significant contributions in terms of funding activities and adopting positive policies within their estate towards pubwatch. If we hadn't had their backing and support at various stages of our life I'm not sure we would actually be here today. The BII, over the years, has done an exceptional amount for us. It's provided funding, support and driven the idea of pubwatch along through the industry. I think that the new regime, the stance of the Government, and some of the issues faced by the trade now, have forced some companies that ignored pubwatch to reconsider their stance. I don't believe they have the same level of commitment as those that came in before.

RdV: These companies that we just mentioned were not embarrassed into supporting us; they wanted to do it because it was right. There are a lot of people now who have come aboard who were embarrassed into doing it.

QA number of MPs have pledged their support to pubwatch. What help do they give?

RdV: All our MPs have said if there's anything we can do, just phone us. Ronnie Campbell (Labour MP for Blyth Valley, Northumberland) reduced crime in his constituency by 78% just by having two pubwatches. He came to me and asked: "What do I do?" I said: "Go to your chief superintendent and have a word about forming a pubwatch." Ronnie did that and he's been a staunch supporter of ours ever since.

ME: Some MPs have provoked interest by asking questions and raised specific concerns with Government. The problem is ministers may be well intentioned but civil servants fudge the issue and repeatedly don't deliver. I'm probably talking about the Home Office. I think in recent times the DCMS (the Department for Culture, Media & Sport) has been somewhat more receptive to us.

QWhat would you like the Home Office to do to help pubwatches?

ME: We would like them to address the issue of information exchange (so photographs of troublemakers can be passed around pubwatch pubs without breaking data protection rules). There is no consistency across the UK in police services about information exchange with pubwatches. There's often a reluctance to become involved but, like it or not, if a pubwatch is to work efficiently it has to know who to keep out. The new [Tackling Violent Crime] Bill actually talks about people being banned for a certain period of time in certain circumstances. I'd be interested to know how the Government is going to put that into effect without addressing the issue we keep raising with them over photographs.

QWhat is your view of alcohol disorder zones (the proposal in the Tackling Violent Crime Bill where licensees should pay the policing and associated costs in a designated area)?

ME: I don't think they are going to be workable. The practicalities of imposing alcohol disorder zones - recovering the money, etc, etc - means it's really not worth the effort. However, there are some other aspects of the legislation, such as banning people, which would work. I would rather see efforts thrown there.

QAre police giving enough support to pubwatch groups?

ME: Police support is variable at all levels. At senior levels in most police forces, they will be supportive. But that supportive stance, when translated to the shop floor, either fails or is muted. Some individuals are obstructive or unhelpful. I don't think there's many forces - apart from perhaps Thames Valley and Cheshire - that have wholeheartedly engaged in supporting pubwatch activities, because it's not forming a priority. It's not fitting the current Government trends.

RdV: I don't think that police officers at senior level trust licensees. It goes back to the days of the LVA (Licensed Victuallers' Association) meeting when the policeman was plied with drinks and everybody was very sociable. There's always this attitude that one day he may come to me and want something.

ME: I had an interview with a very senior representative of ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers) with responsibility for licensing, seeking their general support for pubwatch. The question that was thrown at us was: "What's in this for you?" I'm hoping that the world will change from that viewpoint.

QWhat is your view of other initiatives to combat alcohol-fuelled disorder, such as Best Bar None (the

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