Belfast Telegraph

Buckfast: Tonic wine now associated with crime, violence and binge drinkers

By Clare Weir and Amanda Poole

It may be brewed by Devonshire monks, but Buckfast has been involved with some devilish behaviour in Northern Ireland over the last few years.

Police have now revealed that the potent tonic wine — which packs a punch of 15% proof and contains caffeine — has been mentioned in more than 100 PSNI crime reports over the past four years.

And a prominent GP and Assembly member says that the drink should be investigated by Stormont’s Health Committee and even banned.

The alcoholic drink was named as a factor in 102 incidents recorded by the PSNI since 2006.

Buckfast bottles were apparently used 21 times as a weapon, although just eight of the incidents were deemed as violent crimes.

The information was released after a Freedom of Information (FOI) request by the Belfast Telegraph.

The revelation comes as Social Development Minister Alex Attwood revealed this week that he is to introduce laws that could prosecute pubs, clubs and supermarkets who offer alcohol promotions.

The Minister has vowed to tackle the “irresponsible sale” of alcohol which has been linked to a number of social problems and violent crimes.

Buckfast in particular has been linked to a number of incidents of criminal behaviour.

A PSNI statement read: “Since 2006 there have been 102 incidents involving Buckfast tonic wine.

“The statistics provided relate to validated crimes where Buckfast was mentioned in the initial report to police and where the bottle was used as a weapon.

“There may have been other instances where a Buckfast bottle was used and this would have been revealed later as part of the investigation and therefore would not be included.

“Occurrences involving Buckfast classified as ‘street drinking' or ‘rowdy/nuisance persons' were not examined as they are not crimes.”

Just eight of the offences were deemed as violent crimes although a Buckfast bottle was used 21 times as a weapon.

Buckie, as it is better known in Northern Ireland, is made by Benedictine monks in Devon and contains phosphate salts and caffeine.

But it has developed a reputation due to its popularity with teenage binge drinkers and some politicians in Northern Ireland have called for action to curb its use.

Dr Kieran Deeny MLA says that the drink could be investigated by the Assembly Health Committee.

”It is a health issue at the end of the day and can lead on to other issues,” he said.

“I would like to see research carried out by the Health Committee into who drinks Buckfast, who is buying it in Northern Ireland.

“If it is proven that it is drunk by a majority of young people as opposed to older people, and I have to say I know very few, if any, adults who would buy or drink it — then there may be a case that it could be banned in Northern Ireland.”

He added: “When you take a substance that lowers your inhibitions and combine it with a stimulant like caffeine, it can be a dangerous combination for some people.

He added: “Injuries would probably be minimised across the board if all drinks were sold in plastic bottles but I can see why a lot of alcohol companies would resist this.”

Health Committee chairperson Jim Wells agrees with his colleague and has called for a pricing rethink on all types of alcohol, saying the clawback would solve the health budget deficit.

He added: “Whilst we cannot pinpoint Buckfast, we do have to look at whether a wine described as a ‘tonic’ at 15% proof is being taxed at the correct rate.”

On the issue of plastic bottles, Buckfast distributor J Chandler & Co said: “We have been looking at the plastic bottle issue for some time.

“Apart from environmental issues relating to plastic it should also be noted that very few drinks manufacturers put their alcohol in plastic and the cider industry tend to put their premium brands in glass.

“We do realise that when someone gets injured with a glass bottle this is very distressing and wrong.”

In some areas, including Northern Ireland, smaller servings of Buckfast are sold in plastic bottles.

The Belfast Telegraph made several attempts to contact the press office of the monks of Buckfast Abbey without success.

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