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Home Office thumbs up for Yeovil pub fingerprint plan

But crime stats raise questions

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The extent of interest among local authorities to install fingerprinting security in pubs and clubs around the country has been revealed by the police brains behind the pilot scheme in Yeovil.

Yet there are still doubts about how well it discourages drunken violence after the latest statistics from Yeovil showed this week that alcohol-related crime was not falling as fast in venues that fingerprinted their punters as elsewhere in the town.

"We've had interest from police and local authorities around the country," said Sgt Jackie Gold of South Somerset Police, who led the pub fingerprinting project in Yeovil.

She was aware of authorities having an interest in pub fingerprinting in Bath, Kent, Leicestershire, Liverpool, Plymouth, South Wales, Taunton, Torquay, to name just a few.

CreativeCode, the company behind the system, had received another order in the last few days from an authority in North Wales, she said.

After visiting Yeovil to review its pub fingerprinting scheme, the Home Office told Sgt Gold they should try it in some big cities. But there are doubts over claims that the Home Office had plans to roll it out in major English cities.

The Home Office had asked why do the pilot in a little old town like Yeovil, said Martin Mattey, managing director of CreativeCode.

"The Home Office said, 'why not do it in big cities...why not places like Coventry, Hull, and Sheffield'," he said.

The Home Office said there were no plans to roll it out nationwide, but it would encourage police and local authorities to look at the scheme.

Julia Bradburn, principal licensing manager at South Somerset District Council, stuck to her story that the Home Office had plans to fund fingerprinting systems in Coventry, Hull and Sheffield.

"Bizarrely, the Home Office have denied they have given us funding and they denied they are rolling it out in Hull, Coventry and Sheffield, even though David Mattey, [managing director of Creative Code], is putting it together."

"They denied that they had given us £6,000 for the project, but I can prove the funding stream," she said.

"They were surprised at our rural setting. They want to roll it out where there are more problems," Bradburn added.

She said Gwent and Nottingham Police had also shown interest.

Mattey said there had been some interest from authorities around the country and the Home Office would fund their pub fingerprint systems through the Safer, Stronger Communities initiative. Nuneaton had secured Home Office funding and was going ahead with it. Leicestershire, Liverpool, Taunton and Torquay were also interested.

But he was concerned about press interest in the scheme: "It's done me some damage. The problem is when the media pull it apart. This is not about discrimination or forcing people out, it's about sharing information...It's a membership system, like a video club...it's about getting information about people who are hell bent on causing trouble."

The scheme involves pub and bar licensees making notes about the behaviour of their patrons against their pub photo and fingerprint records. The information is shared around those pubs signed up to the scheme, so other bar staff can see what their customers have been up to.

"If they were abusive to bar staff," said Sgt. Gold, for example, "it will be noted and another venue would be able to see and decide perhaps to say, 'we'll let you in, but we'll keep an eye on you'.

"There's just one or two people who spoil it for everyone and this system is designed to stop them," said Sgt. Gold.

She added that the scheme should also be hooked up to pub CCTV systems. She hoped that within the year every pub and club in Yeovil centre would be using the fingerprinting system.

South Somerset District Council released new crime statistics this week that showed how alcohol related crime had dropped 23.5 per cent in the six venues involved in Yeovil's fingerprint security pilot.

Yet, the council revealed last Friday that alcohol related crime in the rest of the town down had dropped by 48 per cent. Statistics had also shown that there had been a rise in domestic violence. ®

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