PC Neal Hunwick says Shoreditch has a ‘massive problem’ with alcohol and violence.
Photograph: Zigfrid von Underbelly / Flickr

Alcohol is fuelling a return to the “bad old days” of violence in Shoreditch – leaving even police officers feeling unsafe.

That’s according to PC Neal Hunwick, who says the area, one of London’s most popular for late-night drinking, offers a unique challenge.

He explained: “It’s Europe’s busiest night-time economy, there’s some very light licensing in there, and there’s a massive problem with alcohol and the violence that it fuels.”

He told Hackney’s licensing sub-committee that since the end of lockdown restrictions on 24 July, “venues have returned to their full capacity, we’ve seen a return to vertical drinking which does have an effect on people’s behaviours – generally venues are noisier, more boisterous”.

He said that over the last 15 months, “many people have seen how quiet, or potentially quieter, an area Shoreditch has become”.

Hunwick added: “The white noise of constant noise, violence, alcohol, et cetera – that was perhaps to a certain degree tolerated because it had become the norm – people have become aware that there is a different way forward.”

However, since it fully reopened, he said Shoreditch “has seen a return to the bad old days of alcohol-fuelled violence”.

“I have to say that in all my years of policing I even personally don’t feel safe walking in the areas concerned, as large numbers of people congregate outside venues when they get kicked out late at night, doing [nitrous oxide] balloons,” he added.

“Congregating in groups, there’s no dispersal – everybody’s hanging around on the streets.”

He said the areas which concerned police were Old Street, Rivington Street, Curtain Road, Great Eastern Street and Shoreditch High Street.

He explained that the police licensing unit and colleagues had decided to “try to resist any extension in hours” of venues “so that we don’t see any further increase in violence”.

Police want to cut crime and disorder by adopting this policy, he said.

“People are getting hurt and its down to alcohol.”

According to the latest crime figures, there were 41 reports of violence in June – before lockdown ended in Shoreditch and Hoxton.

In her submission to the sub-committee, Hunwick’s colleague PC Sian Giles said: “The proliferation of bars, clubs and night-time economy venues has made the area a ‘playground’ for people.

“I know of no-one who lives locally who now makes use of the local licensed establishments.

“Coming home through Shoreditch on a weekend and sometimes weekday evening is like navigating the end of a drunken, rowdy football match. I now ensure I rarely have to navigate that journey.”

She added: “It is, unfortunately, commonplace to see large bouts of violence and disorder resulting in serious injuries, for both the public and police officers.”

At the meeting (17 August), the Simmons bar in Old Street withdrew its application for a late-night extension over the August Bank Holiday. It had hoped to close at 3am from 28-30 August.

PC Hunwick explained the police opposition was a blanket policy.

“We do not blame this venue,” he made clear.

Applicant Nick Campbell pointed out that the bar was not in the Shoreditch Triangle and there had been no problems with crime.

He said if the extension had gone ahead, there would have been four SIA-trained security staff,  which is a ratio of one per 40 customers, and the venue has a management plan.

It had a temporary events licence until 3am a month ago, with no objection from the police, he said, before adding: “Applying a blanket policy to an entire area is not partcularly fair or particularly reasonable.”

PC Hunwick said the previous event was at a time when people were still seated at bars and lockdown was not completely over.

Campbell responded: “I do understand where you’re coming from. I’m not sitting here as an ignorant licensee thinking [people] can do what they want. I am a sensible licensee. “

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