I dislike very much linking to the Daily Mail

But that is where this piece originally appears. If you don’t want to give them the traffic, then click more to read the piece in full. I’m also particularly annoyed by this Cardiff man’s overt sexist tone throughtout, but I’ll leave off fuming about that for another post.

JOHN HUMPHRYS: How I was horrified when I went back to my home city of Cardiff to assess the effects of 24-hour pubs… and found the women as bad as the men

By John Humphrys
Last updated at 8:33 AM on 16th April 2010

One of my favourite memories of a childhood in Wales is sitting with friends at a bar in the centre of Cardiff drinking a quiet pint on a Saturday morning. We were ten years old.

The pint glasses were real enough and the bar had authentic pump handles, but what they dispensed was dandelion and burdock.

In the decades since then I have sunk more pints in Cardiff pubs than I care to count and, as a young man, I often went home the worse for wear. But I won’t be drinking in Cardiff city centre pubs again  –  at least, not on Friday or Saturday nights, and not unless things change very radically indeed.

Violence: Scenes like this are commonplace in towns and cities across the UK (file picture)

What I experienced the last time I was there a few days ago shocked me  –  and it might have been almost any city centre or small town across the land on any Friday or Saturday night.

I was warned that there might be trouble. Indeed, that’s why I went there. I am compiling a series of reports for the Today programme on the way society in Britain has changed since Labour came to power and the extent to which politicians can be blamed (or praised) for it. One of those changes is the way we drink. Correction. The way we get drunk.

The first thing that surprised me was that St Mary Street  –  the main one running through the city centre  –  had been blocked off. Instead of cars passing through, there were police vans and ambulances parked in the street  –  just in case they were needed, I was told.

There’s no ‘in case’ about it. They are always needed. The ambulances operate as mobile accident and emergency units and the police vans contain extra reinforcements for when trouble breaks out. Again, you will notice I say ‘when’ and not ‘if ‘. Trouble always breaks out.

Chief Superintendent Josh Jones, the police officer in command of what they call Operation Cardiff After Dark  –  a thoughtful man in his mid-50s  –  seemed almost apologetic when he briefed me beforehand about what would happen.

The first hint of trouble came when a drunken man, in a violent rage with his drunken girlfriend, started shouting and smashing his fist into a bus shelter window

He admitted that it was, to all intents and purposes, a military-style operation, but said they really had no choice. He was grateful for the new police headquarters, mainly because it has no fewer than 60 cells. Before it was built they had to take the people they arrested to towns as far as 40 miles away to lock them up. There are always many arrests.

So what did happen? Well, the first few hours were peaceful enough. I was mildly shocked at the sheer number of young people crammed into the pubs  –  on a busy night as many as 130,000  –  many of them bused in from the valleys and nearby towns. That’s half the entire population of Cardiff.

And not just young men. There were at least as many girls and women in their 20s and 30s. And not all youngsters. I met a doctor and his friends who showed me proudly their ‘drinking plan’ for the evening: eight pubs in four hours, with a drinking ‘target’ for each and points awarded for exceeding the target.

Everyone I spoke to told me the same thing: ‘We’re here to get drunk.’

The first hint of trouble came when a drunken man, in a violent rage with his drunken girlfriend, started shouting and smashing his fist into a bus shelter window.

Sergeant Scott Lloyd, who was with me for the evening, remonstrated with him. I asked Sgt Lloyd why he hadn’t arrested the man. He was, after all, clearly drunk and disorderly and that’s an offence. By allowing this to happen, weren’t the police effectively allowing the drunks to take over the streets?

‘If we tried arresting everyone like him we’d run out of officers very early,’ he told me.

Fair enough, but I couldn’t help wondering whether the young sergeant wasn’t being a bit of a wimp, simply trying to avoid trouble. Maybe he was nervous of a confrontation with a violent young drunk. I was wrong. A few minutes later all hell broke loose.

Sgt Lloyd was being punched and kicked by a man and several drunken women. The women were screaming foul abuse at full volume

First, one police car, sirens screaming, raced through St Mary Street to another part of the city centre. Then another. And another.

We started moving towards where we thought the trouble might be but we didn’t get far. One minute Sgt Lloyd was at my side, the next he’d shot off across the street and was in the middle of a screaming mob, mostly young women.

He’d spotted what I hadn’t  –  a drunken man viciously attacking another man  –  and hadn’t hesitated. Instead of stopping to radio for back-up, he’d waded in and locked his arm around the man’s neck, dragging him to the ground, being punched and kicked by the man and several drunken women. The women were screaming foul abuse at full volume.

By the time reinforcements arrived, Sgt Lloyd had taken some nasty blows and was bleeding from the arm. I praised him for his bravery. He shrugged it off.

‘If I hadn’t stopped it, someone could have cracked his head on the pavement and been badly injured or even killed. It happens.’

His main regret seemed to be that he’d have to end his patrol to get treated for his injury and, because an arrest had been made, spend hours filling in forms.

Let me repeat: this sort of thing  –  often even worse  –  happens on Friday and Saturday nights across the country. Why? Every police officer I spoke to, from the former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Sir Ian Blair to the bobbies on the beat  –  believe extended drinking hours are partly to blame. They laugh at the notion of a continental-style ‘cafe drinking culture’.

Opinion polls show that what I saw on the streets of Cardiff is right at the top of the list of voters’ worries about what’s changed in Britain, especially people with children of their own

But they think new planning laws are the biggest culprit. There are simply too many pubs, and far too many of them are so-called ‘vertical drinking establishments’. There is nowhere to sit and chat over a quiet pint, nowhere even to rest your glass. You stand and drink.

The whole point of the evening is to get drunk  –  on cheap booze. In my local a pint of bitter is well over £3. In these hideous places, guarded by bouncers, it can be less than £1.

And the men don’t stay reasonably sober if they are with girlfriends. Exactly the opposite. The women get just as drunk. In fact, they may well be drunk even before they leave home. That’s the other thing that worries police officers like Scott Lloyd: what they regard as the ludicrously low price of alcohol in supermarkets.

Opinion polls show that what I saw on the streets of Cardiff is right at the top of the list of voters’ worries about what’s changed in Britain, especially people with children of their own.

Obviously, the politicians did not mean this to happen when they amended the licensing laws. This is the law of unintended consequences in action.

A worried Today listener reminded me of a line from the 17th-century poet John Milton: ‘And when night darkens the streets, then wander forth the sons of Belial, flown with insolence and wine.’

Belial, in mythology, was a demon, an evil genie. The question facing our politicians today is whether the genie can be put back in the bottle?

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