Thames Valley Police have begun swabbing customers’ hands at pubs throughout Bicester this month in a joint voluntary initiative with the local Pubwatch scheme.
Police set up a machine on the door and swab customers’ hands on entry, with the results revealed immediately. If the reading is above a certain level and shows traces of drugs, such as cocaine, customers are denied entry to the premises and searched by police or door staff.
In recent years, similar schemes have also run in Derby, Nottingham, Aberdeen, Chichester, Swansea, Crawley and Norfolk.
Put customers off
However, the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers said swabbing could have significant negative effects on trade. Chief executive Kate Nicholls said: “As we saw with recent trials of on-the-door breathalysers, swabbing may put a significant number of customers off going to the pub.
“Breathalyser trials in Birmingham were not well received and similar measures run the risk of criminalising all our customers, the vast majority of whom are sensible and law abiding. This sort of mentality puts businesses and customers under siege and assumes there is a problem.”
She urged pubs to focus on data sharing and partnership schemes. “We want to ensure our venues continue to provide safe and supervised environments in which to have fun. We also need to be careful that we do not exacerbate any existing problems or needlessly criminalise our customers,” Nicholls added.
Stopped and searched
At the White Hart, in Bicester, on 1 April, all 254 customers were tested on entry; 29 showed recent contact with drugs, six of whom were searched by police, but no drugs found.
An employee at the pub, who wished to remain anonymous, insisted there was “no problem” with drugs in the area. “It’s just something we need to be vigilant about, and to keep an eye on. We’re a late-night venue and it’s very busy, so it’s hard to stay on top of everything,” she told the Publican’s Morning Advertiser.
She explained she wasn’t worried about the scheme deterring customers. “If they’re not guilty then they’ve got nothing to worry about. And if they’ve got a high reading then they’re barred,” she added.
Bicester Police said they were keen to continue with the scheme to send a message that the area had a zero-tolerance policy on drugs. The force claimed the on-the-door process only takes a few seconds and does not disrupt entry.
The British Beer & Pub Association said it was down to local operators or Pubwatch schemes to manage any issues regarding customer behaviour. But chief executive Brigid Simmonds added: “I would be very cautious about subjecting the vast majority of entirely innocent customers to this sort of check.”
Earlier this year, Paul Chase, head of compliance at CPL Training Group, warned that the use of breathalysers in pubs and clubs was becoming more commonplace and a “modern culture of intoxication” with regular drug use among significant numbers of young people was creating major “control issues” for operators.