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Should Inverness call time on the midnight curfew?

By Andrew Dixon

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The future of the city’s controversial midnight club curfew is under review
The future of the city’s controversial midnight club curfew is under review

PRESSURE to lift the midnight club curfew in Inverness will again be in the spotlight this morning.

Members of the Highland Licensing Forum will raise the issue of the curfew, which stops customers entering late-night venues after midnight, at a joint meeting with the Highland Licensing Board.

Although the forum had mixed feelings on the sanction, it agreed to bring the issue back to the table because some members felt smaller pubs and bars were suffering as customers leave for clubs after 11pm.

The smaller bars, although open to 1pm, claim they are losing a swathe of business as a result.

The board considered the issue in January, but decided the Highland Capital’s reputation as one of the safest cities in Britain was too important to risk when they chose to retain the curfew.

At that time, councillors unanimously ignored clerk Donald Somerville’s recommendation to remove the ban, backing senior police instead.

Former head of operations at Northern Constabulary, chief superintendent at the time Bruce Duncan, stressed that it protected the public by ensuring that people were corralled within a controlled environment. However, he also acknowledged that it made it easier to schedule officers’ meal breaks.

Inspector Tom Ogilvie
Inspector Tom Ogilvie

NO . . .

Police inspector Tom Ogilvie wants the current arrangements to remain in place.

"We believe that the curfew is a good thing for public safety and should be retained. The new Licensing (Scotland) Act was founded on five key licensing objectives — three of these are: preventing public nuisance; securing public safety and preventing crime and disorder.

"If people are curfewed within stewarded premises from midnight to 3am, it serves these interests better than if they were on the streets.

"There are public concerns about alcohol-related crime and we do our best to prevent or reduce this.

"If people are ejected from curfewed premises earlier than 3am, police are generally called, but if they choose to leave early it is normally because they are ready to head home – in either case, we don’t believe that the threat to public safety or the burden on police is increased.

"The curfew also allows police to be given notice three hours ahead of the numbers in the premises, which provides accurate information on how many hundreds of people are likely to exit at 3am. This means we can plan the deployment of our scarce resources and more effectively manage policing in areas outwith the city centre during this period.

"We do appreciate that there are commercial concerns from some licensees, but our focus is on the business of public safety.

"We have heard complaints it may confuse tourists, but we believe tourism might be more adversely affected if visitors came across large numbers of inebriated people moving between licensed premises from midnight to 3am.

"It is unfortunate that previous comments regarding meal breaks have been seized upon, but the reality is, for police officers to deliver an effective public service across the 10 or 11-hour shift, they obviously need a meal break. The curfew just makes the scheduling of this easier to achieve.

"We are against the idea of a trial period as we believe the curfew services the provisions of the legislation and its removal would not. A trial would also result in police resourcing issues.

"In the wider interests of public safety, we believe that the arguments for retaining the curfew far outweigh those which seek to remove it."

YES . . .

Ramsay McGhee
Ramsay McGhee

Ramsay McGhee, manager of Inverness, Highlands and Islands Licensed Trade Association wants the curfew to end.

"The vast majority of small, independent licensees are totally behind the campaign to have the curfew removed from Inverness.

"There is no argument that the continued use of the curfew is undoubtedly detrimental to the smaller venues, creates a situation where choice of venue becomes restricted, limits the range and quality of entertainment the earlier closing venues can afford to provide – and generally does nothing to enhance Inverness’s city status.

"When the curfew was brought in, licensing operated under the Licensing (Scotland) Act 1976. Things have changed considerably and licensing is now controlled by the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005, which was designed by the government to specifically reduce anti-social behaviour, binge drinking and under-age drinking.

"It imposes strict conditions, not only on licensees but also on those serving alcohol, to do so responsibly – otherwise staff can be heavily fined and licensees can have their licences suspended or revoked.

"The new legislation has introduced five objectives that licensees and their staff must comply with. If they don’t, they are dealt with by the police, courts, the council’s licensing standards officers and the licensing board.

"In every other city in Scotland this legislation is seen as the means to control anti-social behaviour – there is no longer need for curfews.

"Instead of targeting the smaller independent pubs with the curfew, the authorities should be concentrating their efforts on the multi-national off-sales outlets whose high discounting of alcohol leads to high binge drinking at home.

"This leads to later movement to late night venues – in states of intoxication that would be avoided if they had been in the controlled environment of licensed premises all evening.

"Removing the curfew along with proper policing of the new legislation will ensure residents and visitors to Inverness will be able to enjoy a diverse range of licensed premises safely and that the reputation of Inverness as the place to be will be greatly enhanced."

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