Academics at Glasgow University found that people living in an area with six alcohol outlets or more can expect crime rates twice as high as those in an area with only three – and they suggest the Scottish Government needs to limit the number of shops selling alcohol to cut crime rates. Senior police officers also backed calls to restrict the number of licenced premises in deprived areas.
Although the study found that poverty was a key factor in relation to crime, after allowing for deprivation, alcohol was identified as the most significant determining factor in crime levels.
They found that across different age groups and types of household, the number of bars and off-licences in a neighbourhood is the most significant factor when it comes to levels of violence and acquisitive offences.
Earlier this year, the Scottish Government secured legislation for minimum alcohol pricing of 50p per unit, in an effort to tackle Scotland's unhealthy relationship with alcohol. But this new research highlights the importance of tackling availability, not just price.
Alcohol-related death rates in Scotland are twice as high as in England and Wales and have doubled over the last 15 years. The link between drinking and violence is well documented. Some 49% of Scots prisoners admit to being drunk at the time of their offence. More than three-quarters of murders are committed under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
The new study, which used statistics from Strathclyde Police and Glasgow City Council to assess neighbourhood characteristics, including the proportion of owner-occupied properties and crime rates, found that deprivation and the availability of alcohol are the most significant factors.
The study is part of the GoWell Research Programme, a long-term study of the impacts of regeneration upon disadvantaged communities in Glasgow.
The research was conducted by Ade Kearns, professor of urban studies at the University of Glasgow; Jon Bannister, senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow; and Mark Livingston, Urban Studies Foundation Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow.
Bannister said: "While the Scottish Government is introducing a range of policies to confront alcohol-related problems, particularly around the promotion and price, our research indicates policy on 'overprovision' may be underdeveloped. To reduce crime, the Scottish Government may need to reduce the availability of alcohol through licensed premises."
The academics calculated crime rates for Glasgow areas containing roughly 500 households. The city centre was excluded when looking at the influence of alcohol outlets as it was expected to distort results.
The study found that crime rates
for violence, criminal damage, drugs and miscellaneous offences are all highest in the social renting neighbourhoods.
Property and vehicle crime, including robbery, burglary and theft, are highest in the owner-occupied and private renting neighbourhoods.
Professor Kearns said: "The health and wellbeing of Scottish communities depends upon government being effective in tackling alcohol culture and its associated problems to at least the same degree as they have been successful in reducing the social acceptability of smoking. But this means being robust in addressing alcohol availability within communities as well as trying to reduce demand through the price mechanism."
The study found that when poverty in an area increases from 20% to 40%, there is a 50% rise in the local crime rate. A doubling of the number of alcohol outlets in an area from three to six was also found to be associated with almost a doubling of the local crime rate.
Livingston said crime and deprivation are closely associated and in Glasgow, the highest crime rates are in the poorest parts of the city.
"Deprivation is only part of the story," he said. "Our research highlights the availability of alcohol, measured in terms of the number of outlets licensed to sell it, holds a strong and independent impact on the level of crime in residential areas."
Karyn McCluskey, co-director of the national Violence Reduction Unit, said overprovision is an issue.
"Scotland has an incredibly complex relationship with alcohol," she said. "People drink for so many reasons but that includes alienation and hopelessness. Too many places are selling alcohol and alcohol is linked to crime.
"There is an overprovision of alcohol and I can't believe it is sold in petrol stations, but I don't think the problem is just about provision. Just because there is a McDonald's at the end of my road doesn't mean I eat there.
"I fully believe in minimum pricing because we need to change the mood music in Scotland but it is not just about pricing. We need to look at why people are drinking. We need to look not just at provision but at consumption."
Deputy Chief Constable Campbell Corrigan, of Strathclyde Police, said the research should stimulate debate and new legislation around alcohol provision.
"This study provides the science to what we had suspected for a long time," he said. "We are talking about crime but equally this applies to poor health records and educational problems in certain communities. We should not be allowing too many alcohol outlets to open in these areas.
"The legislation around overprovision is not straightforward.
"The body of evidence from this report suggests we should make it a lot easier to restrict provision.
"We need policing and we need to encourage people to get out of the cycle of drinking too much alcohol, but we need tighter legislation that allows for the restriction of alcohol outlets."
Anatomy of a murder ... triggered by alcohol and echoed in the cinema
Sadly, it was just another typical murder: a life cut short, drink to blame and little attention paid to either killer, victim or court case. What made this killing remarkable was that the lives of the protagonists would be echoed in cinema just a year later.
The story begins in January 2010, when John McCarron killed William Auld in the Cavendish Bar, Nitshill Road, Glasgow. In 2011, McCarron's son, Connor, would star in Peter Mullan's gritty film, Neds, playing a teenage gangster.
Auld was 45 years old when he and pub manager, John McCarron, fell out over a bottle of vodka. As the fight escalated, McCarron emerged from behind the bar brandishing a knife and attacked Auld, stabbing him 16 times.
McCarron was convicted of murder and jailed for 18 years in August 2010.
Police uncovered 29 hidden weapons on the premises, including hammers, swords and machetes, and calls for a review of the Cavendish's licence quickly followed.
The bar had its licence revoked under the 2005 Licensing (Scotland) Act by Glasgow's licensing board, the strongest sanction under the Act.
Eight months later, the Cavendish Bar was reduced to ashes in an unexplained blaze. After the murder trial, the victim's father, Ronald, received abuse from McCarron's supporters online, some of whom – he claimed – were connected to the McCarron family.
Supporters said McCarron was the victim of a miscarriage of justice or a conspiracy.
Ironically, the murderer's son, actor Connor McCarron, would go on to praise his father for protecting him from the kind of knife crime and gang culture portrayed in Neds – the film portrayed a world of violence fuelled by alcohol in Glasgow.
Connor McCarron's comments about his father came near the anniversary of the death of William Auld.
The family of the victim said they were horrified to hear the killer painted in such a good light.
Ronald Auld said: "His dad was not and never was a goodie goodie."
Connor McCarron also criticised the glamour associated with gangs and the danger they presented to society in an interview to promote the film. At the San Sebastian Film Festival, he won Best Actor, and was later dubbed the next Robert De Niro by Mullan's brother and casting director, Lenny. Since the release of Neds, McCarron's career has failed to take off.
A scene from Neds is pictured left. Connor McCarron is third from left.
cOMMENT: 'We need to act when too many shops sell alcohol'
By Jon Bannister, senior lecturer at the University of Glasgow, Ade Kearns, professor of urban studies at the University of Glasgow, and Mark Livingston, Urban Studies Foundation Research Fellow at the University of Glasgow
STUDIES have confirmed a strong association between deprivation and crime. It is no surprise, therefore, to find that the highest rates of crime in residential areas in Glasgow are to be found in the most deprived areas of the city.
Recognising this, our research set out to question whether there were any other neighbourhood characteristics that held an independent influence on the rate of crime.
Our key finding was that the most significant of these factors was the presence and number of alcohol outlets. Our data does not tell us whether the presence of alcohol outlets acts to fuel consumption or, alternatively, whether outlets are placed in neighbourhoods where demand is high; it is probably a bit of both. However, and for all types of crime, the availability of alcohol is associated with local crime rates. The research was done as part of the GoWell Research Programme, a long-term study of the impacts of regeneration upon disadvantaged communities in Glasgow.
Alcohol outlets generate their own particular crimes in and around venues, but alcohol also acts as an accelerant, or "inhibition-reducer", for opportunistic crime, and plays a part in many other crimes such as domestic violence. The more available an addictive product is, the more some people will take the opportunity to access it.
Deprivation is the strongest influence on crime rates. Graph 1 above presents the predicted crime rate based on the level of deprivation (and taking account of all other factors) in any given area. If you live in an area where 40% of the people are income deprived, then you can expect crime rates to be one-and-a-half times higher than if you live in an area with only 20% of people income deprived.
Graph 2 presents the predicted crime rate based on the number of alcohol outlets and taking account of all other factors in any given area. If you live in an area with six alcohol outlets, then you can expect crime rates to be almost twice as high than if you live in an area with only three alcohol outlets.
There have been important policies introduced in Scotland in recent years to tackle problems associated with alcohol over-consumption and dependence.
Legislation has focused particularly on issues of the accessibility of alcohol to young people, low prices or cheap alcohol, and the promotion of alcohol consumption by producers and retailers. However, when it comes to the number of places licensed to sell alcohol in any particular area, policy provision seems weaker. While licensing boards are required under legislation to consider whether there are any areas of "overprovision" within their jurisdiction, there are weaknesses in this approach. "Overprovision" of alcohol outlets – which may in any case not be the most suitable term – is undefined and guidance on its estimation lacking.
There is also no commitment to necessarily refuse a licence application in an area of "overprovision".
In any case, any such refusal can be overturned on appeal. There is no policy to actually reduce the number of licensed outlets in any area. Further consideration should be given at national and local level to the rationale, definition and operation of licensing policies related to the "overprovision" of alcohol outlets in local areas.
We believe that our research should provide a stimulus to furthering that debate among policy-makers.