Police chief attacks middle-class parents who let children drink

PARENTS who allow their children to get drunk in the family home are "beyond irresponsible" and "failing in their duty of care", says one of Scotland's most senior police officers.

Tom Halpin, temporary chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, has delivered a sweeping condemnation of middle-class parents who think it is acceptable to buy alcohol for their under-age children or let them drink with friends.

It comes as the force today launches its strategy to tackle alcohol-related problems.

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Under-age drinking has risen to the top of the political agenda under the SNP government.

Kenny MacAskill, the justice secretary, has announced controversial proposals to crack down on alcohol abuse, including banning the sale of drink in shops and supermarkets to under-21s. But Mr Halpin is now shifting the focus of attack to parents, particularly those from comfortable backgrounds who tol-erate their children drinking with friends in their bedroom or living room.

He told The Scotsman: "GPs, lawyers, teachers, social workers, police officers – all these respected pillars of society actually find it very difficult to confront that sort of issue when it's in their own home.

"People who care for young people, whether they are parents, relatives or family friends, need to understand that there's an enormous difference between experimenting with a glass of wine over dinner to consuming two litre bottles of cider and topping that up with alcopops.

"That is extremely damaging, not just in terms of putting them at immediate risk, but in terms of their wellbeing, their self- esteem."

Asked if parents who allow their children to get drunk with their friends in the family home are acting irresponsibly, he said: "It's beyond irresponsibility. It's failing in their duty of care."

He said society's perception of teenage drinking had been distorted by scenes of youths drinking in public.

This image has been reinforced by recent high-profile police operations, such as Op- eration Floorsweep in West Lothian, in which 100 under-16s found drinking in public were taken to the police station and questioned about their behav-iour. But Mr Halpin believes there is an equally serious "hidden" problem of under-age drinking in the family home. Because it is out of view, health workers and other agencies are unable to intervene.

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He said the stereotype of under-age drinking in public was "in some ways unfair".

"It paints a picture of kids from deprived areas who perhaps don't have the same support networks around them that more privileged young people have who drink Chardonnay in the conservatory," he said.

His force's new alcohol strategy seeks to push the role of the police far beyond traditional enforcement, into education and intelligence-gathering.

As well as returning children found drinking to their family home and speaking to their parents, officers are now getting children and parents to attend police stations the next day to be offered support services.


OPERATION Floorsweep was launched in West Lothian last year to target under-age drinking and associated antisocial behaviour.

The operation involved teams of community police officers being deployed to hotspots to identify drunk under-age youths. They were taken to a police station, their parents were contacted to attend, and all were warned regarding their behaviour.

A group of 100 children ranging in age from 12 to 16 were interviewed between six months to a year after the initial contact with the police.

Since Operation Floorsweep, three-quarters said their drinking had gone down.