Glass war

By Gareth Iacobucci

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Police, Glass

"We've had no deaths, but we've had a couple of throat slashings, and if we can prevent one death, it's worth doing."In the face of emotive comments...

"We've had no deaths, but we've had a couple of throat slashings, and if we can prevent one death, it's worth doing."

In the face of emotive comments like this from a police sergeant in Northampton, the debate over the use of polycarbonate glasses has become one of the most prominent issues in the trade.

Police forces and councils around the country are encouraging licensees, particularly in late-night venues, to switch from glass in a bid to cut the number of glass-related violent incidents.

Authorities have strong support from lobby groups such as the POP campaign, which have called for glass to be banned in late-night clubs and bars that are "statistically shown to be most at risk".

But while many licensees would agree that premises with a history of problems should be forced to switch, others are worried that blanket bans on glass will be the next step. Kingston-Upon-Thames in Surrey has already banned venues from using glass after midnight, and other areas are expected to follow.

The British Beer & Pub Association says constant pressure is now being put on licensees over the issue "with a large number of police forces pushing plastic to the licensed trade".

Lethal weapon

Northamptonshire Police is one force which has been actively encouraging licensees to switch to polycarbonates.

"We had a glassing this weekend, and are having about four offences a month on average, which is far too high," says community safety sergeant Mark Worthington.

"You're putting a mind-altering drug into a weapon, and if you look at the injuries it can cause, it's worth changing to polycarbonates.

"We have a targeted approach, but are not looking for a blanket ban. If we do see glass used as a weapon, we could speak to venues and ask them to change.

"We could put the licence to review but only as a last resort."

Briony Quinton, licensee of the Charles Bradlaugh in Northampton, confirms that the local council is "quite keen on a changeover" but says she is not at present planning to switch to polycarbonates.

Chris Wills, licensee of nearby NB's bar, believes licensees in the town could soon be forced to make the switch. He has already introduced polycarbonates in his venue.

"The police didn't say we had to do it, but suggested it would be a good idea," says Chris.

"It's been a couple of months now, and it's definitely cheaper, although there is more wear and tear and the glasses do get scratched."

Northampton is not the only police force supportive of the move towards polycarbonates.

Sergeant Paul Calver of Warwickshire Police has been recommending them to licensees in Leamington Spa, despite the fact there is little glass-related violence in the town.

"We have four nightclubs here, and we are trying to persuade them to switch over. We're trying to start at the top and work our way down."

Lessons from Scotland

But while the push for polycarbonates is spreading in England, a move for it in Scotland was thwarted by the Scottish Beer & Pub Association (SBPA).

Patrick Browne, chief executive of SBPA, says he hopes authorities elsewhere will take heed of the Glasgow Licensing Board's decision to make a u-turn on its decision to impose a blanket ban.

The board had hoped to ban glass in all pubs within its area from January 1 2007, but, following an SPBA appeal, agreed that it would target specific problem premises.

"The issue for us was that all premises, all the time, would have been covered," says Browne.

"The board made a concession, and the industry accepted it and thought we could live with this policy."

Enforcing blanket bans would amount to punishing all venues for those that do attract trouble, declares Browne.

"Polycarbonates don't help the tasting experience for drinkers, and would be penalising the entire industry for a very small minority."

Few would argue that many late-night venues will be safer places for using polycarbonates, but some licensees are concerned that what might begin as selective enforcement might progress to more widespread glass bans across the board - which could potentially change the face of pubs as we know them.

But, Marjorie Golding, whose son was glassed while working as a doorman in 2004, rejects the notion that any late-night pub or club could be considered safe. Although Marjorie, who is spearheading the POP campaign, is not interested in pursuing a blanket ban for all pubs, she believes that all late-night venues attracting a young clientele should be made to switch to polycarbonates.

"There is no such thing as a safe venue. It's not the manager or the owner's fault; it's the people who walk through the door.

"Unless it's tattooed on their head, how do you know?" she asks.

"One venue in Bournemouth, which to be fair had never had any trouble at all, said 'no' to using polycarbonates, but three weeks ago, they had a horrendous glassing. Now they're using polycarbonates."

Oceana, Kingston-upon-Thames, Surrey

Steve Fleury, manager of Oceana nightclub in Kingston-Upon-Thames, Surrey, admits the venue had been initially reluctant to switch to polycarbonates,

but says this was mostly down to costing issues. "About two years ago, the three big clubs in the town were all asked by the

police to trial polycarbonates. We were reluctant at first, but it works," he says.

"The biggest problem was finding the right products. It wasn't cheap to switch, but we've seen a good long-term benefit.

"There are fewer breakages and less damage to the floor, and even little things like fewer cut toes."

Customers at the venue have said that as long as their drinks are served in the right way - over ice for example - there is no problem.

"We do allow champagne and wine glasses in certain areas of the club, but we restrict the parts of the club they go with glass."

Despite his support for polycarbonates, Steve is not convinced that more legislation will provide an overall solution to alcohol-related violence.

"We're all looking at ways of improving and making licensed venues safer for people," he says.

"There is more and more legislation being placed upon licensees, some of it knee jerk, and I think one simple issue that hasn't been dealt with is

making sure people behave."

Polycarbonates - what our readers think

A recent poll on thepublican.com suggested most publicans would not choose to use polycarbonates. In the poll, carried out from April 11 to 18 more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of licensees said that given a choice they would not use polycarbonates. Let us know your views at news@thepublican.com

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