Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland's Buckfast-related arrests hit record high

By Michael Sheils McNamee

It's a tipple infamous for the drunken recklessness it can induce, and now it has been revealed that someone is arrested in a Buckfast-related incident every 10 days in Northern Ireland.

Over a five-year period, so-called 'Lurgan champagne' was involved in an average of 38 arrests annually.

Last year the number of arrests hit a five-year peak - 56 in total.

This was more than double the figure from 2015 when 25 people were arrested. Prior to that, 2012 saw 41 arrests, 2013 saw 28, and 2014 saw 42. In the first five months of this year a further 18 mentions of Buckfast were recorded by the PSNI in arrest reports.

The figures were released following a Freedom of Information request from the Belfast Telegraph.

The tonic wine is made by Benedictine monks at Buckfast Abbey in Devon.

In a statement, the drink's distributor J. Chandler & Company said: "The key fact from the request you have received is to point out that Buckfast was merely mentioned within the report.

"This does not mean that Buckfast was responsible for the crimes which were committed. No brand of alcohol can be held accountable for crimes which are committed, it is down to the individual concerned.

"Given that Buckfast was mentioned less than 0.23% out of the total amount of crimes committed, there are more pressing issues to contend with."

The figures related to all incidents where a person was arrested and processed through police custody.

Less serious incidents not in the figures include when perpetrators are arrested and released on street bail, where they are required to report to a police station at a later date, or discretionary disposals carried out by the PSNI where officers are able to use their judgement to resolve minor crimes.

A 750ml bottle of Buckfast retails for around £8 a bottle and has an alcohol content of 15%.

DUP MLA Carla Lockhart told the Belfast Telegraph: "While I don't want to comment on a particular brand it is clear that alcohol does on occasions lead to adverse actions and criminality.

"If people are going to consume alcohol they need to be mindful of the potential repercussions should it impair their judgment."

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey said that her focus was on "protecting the most vulnerable in our society" and that "often they are the same people who consume super-strength drinks".

"There is a clear link between over-consumption of alcohol and arrests, whether it's fine wines and spirits or Buckfast," the MLA said.

"We need to ensure that we support people with alcohol issues, including through the provision of addiction services."

Buckfast is distributed throughout the UK by J Chandler & Company and, while less common in its home country of England, it enjoys popularity in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and in the Republic.

A favourite tipple of Scottish TV character Rab C Nesbitt, the drink is often singled out for criticism.

In 2006 Scotland's then-health minister Andy Kerr called it "seriously bad" and said there was "something different" about the drink - although he later tempered his comments after meeting with distributors.

Seven years ago, BBC Scotland broadcast a documentary featuring journalist Kenneth Macdonald, who said that his aim was to find out why the drink had "acquired a reputation as Scotland's 'commotion lotion'".

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