With the new year festivities behind us, and many no doubt resolving to lay off the booze – at least until the gym gets too boring – perhaps it’s time to put the spotlight on alcohol.

Set up in May 2012, the Alcohol Harm Reduction Unit is part of County Durham’s strategy to “reduce the harm caused by alcohol to individuals, families and communities,” and ensure that “people are able to enjoy alcohol responsibly.”

However, it is not simply another police unit with one speciality; the AHRU comprises many organisations, including Durham Constabulary, Durham County Council, Environmental Health, and Trading Standards to name but a few, and has several objectives.

I spoke with PC Mick Urwin from the Meadowfield based unit about the work they have been doing in the county this year.

I asked him how the unit came to be involved with the licensing hearing and the case surrounding the Red Velvet club in Consett. He tells me “we’re very much focused on the wider issues of which alcohol is also a part.

“With clubs we have a big focus on the management and also on responsible management.” He continued “we need to take a look at how Red Velvet is run.”

PC Urwin spends a good deal of time speaking to communities, schools and colleges in the county promoting awareness of the reality of the dangers inherent to alcohol; and not only dangers to health.

They also operate a three strikes rule for anyone under age caught with alcohol in a public place. After which they can be referred to 4Real, a specialist support service for young people who can offer advice and support with drug or alcohol issues.

“Of around one thousand young people we have referred to 4Real, only one has ended up in court.” He goes on to emphasise that alcohol is not just about the health concerns for young people, but the prospect of a criminal record.

Our discussion moves on to what can be done to tackle problem drinking among adults, and PC Urwin then told me quite a horrifying fact; Durham Police analysed data of the incidents officers were engaged in at 9:45pm on a randomly selected Saturday night, and every single one was an alcohol related incident. They repeated the analysis, but this time on a Tuesday night, when one might imagine it being far less, but still, 80% of the incidents they responded to were alcohol related.

This, he explains, is part of the reason why the AHRU is backing the minimum unit price for alcohol. “If we had a minimum unit price of 50p, studies estimate there’d be 46,000 fewer crimes and 300,000 fewer hospital admissions because of alcohol over a ten-year period.”

He explains to me that the price of a pint of beer in the pub or a bottle of supermarket wine won’t be affected because they already cost more than the proposed minimum. The things that will be mainly affected are the cheap spirits and cheap ciders.

PC Urwin shows me some other campaigns they have been running throughout the year to help raise awareness of the risks involved with alcohol; including the hauntingly named Fairytale Ending campaign which advises younger people, particularly students of the best ways to stay safe on nights out.

We speak briefly again about Red Velvet; “it was a very good example of community intelligence coming in and us acting on it,” he said, adding “Our thanks go out to the community.” I asked him about the implications for other Consett clubs and bars, “If a premises is not run responsibly, we will act. We will look at people’s licences.” He warned.

As a parting thought, PC Urwin reminded us all, “drink, by all means, we all do, but drink sensibly.”

You can follow PC Urwin and the work of the AHRU on Twitter @AlcoholHarmCop

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