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Durham Students Claim New Crackdown On Drinking Could Put More Lives At Risk

Students told BuzzFeed News that some of the police chief constable's comments were unprofessional and irresponsible.

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Durham university students have expressed concerns that recent attempts to crack down on drinking in the city could actually put more people at risk.

Owen Humphreys / PA

Following the drownings of three students in the River Wear over the past year and a half, local authorities have announced a series of measures aimed at tackling what they perceive to be an "unsafe" drinking culture among students.

Students have been told they could face on-the-spot fines for being too drunk or carrying an open alcohol container, and a pilot scheme allowing door staff to breathalyse people on nights out has also been announced.

Students, though, say implementing such measures could actually do more harm than good.

Owen Humphreys / PA

Tom Fenton, the editor of the local student newspaper, Palatinate, told BuzzFeed News: "If one student in a group is breathalysed, found to have drunk too much, and not allowed into the club, it is very possible that that student will then have to walk home alone, and possibly along the river."

Police believe all three drownings happened after the students fell into the Wear while walking beside the river on nights out.

Fenton added: "I think the fines system won’t work either because it will encourage more people – both students and locals – to walk along the river to try and avoid the police. Again, that’s not what we want late at night."

Politics and economics second-year Charlie Capel told The Tab: “Punishing people for being drunk will only force them to take routes home that aren’t patrolled by the police, and give incentive not to seek help when their lives may be in danger.”

Many Durham students remain concerned about the lack of safety measures along the Wear's pathways, and have called for better lighting, CCTV, and the installation of barriers.

Commenting on the new announcements, Rory Tingle, news editor of student website The Bubble, told BuzzFeed News: "I am not necessarily against fining people who have drunk themselves to the point that they are completely incapacitated, but that by itself will not solve the issue of riverside safety."

Fenton said the reaction from the authorities had been too skewed towards dealing with alcohol, rather than making sure students get home safely in groups after nights out.

I also don't accept the term 'Durham's drinking culture'. Students drink, locals drink. Is this not the same in every university? There are many people in general who drink to excess – but there are many people who don't, and I know a few students who are teetotal. According to Department of Health statistics, fewer people of our generation drink than the next generation up. Binge drinking is less of a problem for our generation than the one above. Fewer people our age drink than they used to.

Recent comments by Durham’s chief constable, Mike Barton, have also created something of a division between the students and police.

Tingle said: "Durham Constabulary have had quite a gung ho attitude in their communications with the student body.

"Mike Barton was right to say that people need to take personal responsibility for their safety, but his rant about students calling for fences along the river was completely unprofessional, and only served to polarise relations between the police and students."

And Fenton said he felt uncomfortable when police were only commenting on the issues surrounding alcohol in the aftermath of three deaths.

A mother of a current Durham student has now started a JustGiving page to raise money for better river security.

Janis Penn is trying to raise £1,500, which she says she will pass on to the Durham City Safety Group, set up to prevent another death in Wear.

A £50,000 campaign aimed at educating students on drinking has been announced and an assessment of riverside safety is due to take place in the coming weeks.

Both Fenton and Tingle believe more could have been done, however.

Tingle said: "There is a vocal element of the local population that sees these recent deaths purely as examples of student irresponsibility and is therefore opposed to any kind of increased spending on safety."

He added: "The police know this, and that is why they are reluctant to go ahead any of these changes."

Fenton concluded: "It is very positive to see something finally being done. But it has come too late for three people. I hope that will be on the minds of all those involved in making sure people are safe."

Durham council told BuzzFeed News the details of the breathalysing pilot scheme had yet to be confirmed and would be released at a later date.

Richard James is the News Director for BuzzFeed Australia and is based in Sydney.

Contact Richard James at

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