Drowning in Drink Spotlight

Drowning in Drink

Stephen Dempster explores the nation's relationship with alcohol, including the social and financial implications of beginning drinking from a young age.

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Just another Belfast Saturday night. Young people here are drinking


harder than ever before. In the past, they would have been drinking


drinks of around 4%. Now they are drinking drinks that are 40%.


a case of lining up the shots on the bark and who can drink the most.


But where as it used to be teenagers drinking, now it can be


primary school children out well. You see people in their twenties


with advanced liver disease and they say they started drinking when


they were 10 or 12. So how do we break a drinking cycle so ingrained


Apology for the loss of subtitles for 42 seconds


A bereaved father looking for the body of he's drowned son. Joe


Murphy has been out here every day for four weeks with family and


friends, searching the River Lagan. On this particular day, nothing is


found, but Joe refuses to stop looking for his son. Joby was a 20-


year-old barman from Belfast. Six weeks ago, he and his girlfriend


Karen went to a Snow Patrol concert at the Odyssey Arena in Belfast.


But it was just a few hours after this photograph was taken that Joby


died, soon after getting extremely drunk on cheap shot of vodka.


was into everything when he was younger. He enjoyed life. Because


of one night of cheap alcohol, he After the concert, Joby and his


girlfriend went to the Beach Club inside the Odyssey. It was hosting


its usual Wednesday night offer - 9 shots for �9. The last memory I


have of him, he had four drinks in his hand. That was it. Everything


was fine and then they went to the beach club and then it was vodka,


vodka, vodka. Later that night, so drunk he could hardly walk, Joby


fell into the River Lagan. His family blamed cheap alcohol. He was


really drunk and still manage to get a drink at the bar.


challenge the Beach Club on this But Joby's brother Martin claims he


saw his brother and others being served whilst they were heavily


drunk. Me and my friend, there was guy there. We had to physically


lift him up. He still got served. Have you ever been in the Beach


Club and been drunk and been served? Plenty of times. When we


went back to the Beach Club, they told us their staff is trained to


spot drunk people, but it is not an easy thing to ascertain. Do you


think it is partly Joby's fault? is. The drink is so cheap. It is


like giving a child a bar of chocolate. If the Beach Club has


not been open that night, would Joby still be alive? He would. 100


Alcohol abuse is costing Northern Ireland up to �900 million a year.


Alcohol-related deaths have gone up by almost 50 % in the last decade.


Hospital admissions have also risen by more than 50 % in five years. -


15%. The biggest rise been among 15-24 year-olds. In the wake of


Joby Murphy's death, the Stormont Executive has vowed to introduce


new legislation to ban irresponsible alcohol promotions.


Tonight on Spotlight we investigate some of these nightclubs running


these promotions and expose how they blatantly disregard the


Spotlight has learned of a significant rise of violent


assaults in Belfast city centre in the last year, which police sources


believe are linked to drinking One area where incidents have been


happening is here, outside the Odyssey, which is home to some of


Northern Ireland's busiest night Our youngsters seemed to have taken


over the night time economy and we don't know what to do about it.


Hyland runs the SOS buses. They are staffed by trained volunteers to


offer medical support and a shoulder to cry on for the young


people in various stages of drunkenness. Joe says many of his


team joined after visiting the bus to pick up their own children.


Things are getting worse. As long as alcohol is very, very cheap, as


long as we have a culture where we send our children into places like


this. We have given the space to them because we are now staying at


home. There has at times been serious drunken violence at the


Odyssey. On this night, people are falling down and being sick. The


mood is generally good-natured, but we do see plenty of trouble. It is


close to chucking out time. We have seen a lot of drunk people, but


what has been impressive is the way the security staff, the police and


the SOS bus work together. Although there are lots of drunk people


around, it does feel quite safe. How many times do you think you


have been drunk? This youth worker insists there


have been changes in drinking habits in young people over the


last few years. It is a case of I am going out and I'm going to get


drunk. I am going to have the greatest time I'm never going to


remember. At Addiction NI, there has been an increase in people


coming for help. The demand for our treatment service has doubled in


the last three years. We are seeing 2,000 people a year in Northern


Ireland and the majority of those people have alcohol problems.


Director Clare Armstrong also believes this is down to a major


And this is that culture in action - so called booze buses which young


people travel on to get to a nightclub. This footage shows


clubbers drinking neat alcohol mixed with beer. It was on a


website, but was taken down after sparking controversy in the media.


Young people are drinking spirits as their first drink. They have


gone from drinking something that was around 4% in strength to


something that is 40%. This culture of downing shots is so popular that


it is even highlighted in this Neil McDougall, Northern Ireland's


leading liver specialist, says that this drink culture is the reason


why liver disease has doubled in the last few years. He says the


patients he sees are getting younger. We are regularly seing


people in their twenties with advanced liver disease. It is


something we have become more aware of in the last five, 10 years. It's


not the usual alcoholic in their forties, it is people drinking


excessively just because they can get their hands on it. The family


of Joby Murphy met a Stormont Minister who wants to bring in


legislation to ban drink promotions. The Executive is also watching to


see if Scotland is successful in introducing a minimum price for


alcohol. There is determination on the part of the Executive to deal


with this. Government is really committed to do this issue.


just how committed are the authorities to making nightclubs


behave responsibly? We visited a few nightclubs in Belfast city


centre to find out if it is possible to buy alcohol after 1am


when premises should stop serving And sure enough, two vodkas are


All four clubs were quite openly serving alcohol between one and


three in the morning, so what does that say about the attitudes about


nightclubs to our drinking laws? And the authority's ability to


enforce them? In Northern Ireland three quarters of us drink and


enjoy the relaxation and social benefits, which come with sensible


consumption. No-one's suggesting they should stop, but all the


experts we've spoken to emphasise there is the change in the


intensity of young people's drinking and they all say the other


change is that children are starting to drink at a younger age.


We have had clients starting drinking at seven. Primary


schoolchildren are able to take you to where their older brother


gathers with their friends to drink and they would admit that they


would be tempted, yes, to accept the alcohol. Joan McClain is a


Londonderry school teacher who is deeply concerned about how some


schoolchildren are drinking at primary and secondary school age.


It's not uncommon for young people to go to school with alcohol in


lemonade bottles. That's going on as well. On my way to school


sometimes I would see young people waiting on the doorstep of an off


licence maybe at 8am, waiting for it to open. She runs a project for


P7 pupils to try to stop them falling into early drinking habits.


Children as young as five have been able to identify for me blue WKD or


orange. They've been able to use this in a role-play session, which


would you like blue or orange WKD? This is the at age five. With the


help of some of Joan's older ex- Educating children and alcohol


awareness doesn't necessarily stop them drinking. Here is Joby Murphy,


this time filmed four years ago, taking part in a Belfast City


Council project about the dangers of abusing alcohol. I seen someone


the other night and they were lying in a puddle of their own piss.


body is not well equipped. Here in Donegall Pass, Terry Watson is


trying to get the message across about alcohol to boys like Luke and


Sammy, who are both 13 years old. What sort of state do 11 and 12 and


13-year-olds get themselves in? I've had to phone 999 on a few


occasions for young people, who have been violently ill. I've been


young women almost lying in gutters and absolutely legless. That's a


sad and sorry sight and especially when they are underage. Street by


Street is a group of local volunteers set up to monitor the


inner city streets of South Belfast keeping in touch with and an eye on


young drinkers. Look at all of that beer and the vodka. They come round


here and drink first, because it's cheaper. One teenager we met


claimed he started drinking simply because it was the done thing.


drink mostly every weekend. You feel left out if you don't. Luke


told us he's been drinking since he was 11 years old. How do you get a


beer? Mates. Sometimes. What do your parents think about you


drinking? Told me to tell her if I had a wee beer and tell her about


it. Instead of lying, so I told her. It's not just beer. There are 11-


year-olds who are also drinking spirits. When did you have your


first hangover? 11. I drunk a glass of vodka, so I did. Me and my mate,


Sammy. That was it. They brought me home, the police. That was it.


did you feel about that? Sick. it stopped you drinking? What do


you drink now? WKD. That's it. I just drink at Christmas time with


my mummy. She lets me have a wee drink with her at Christmas and


when I'm on holiday with her. about around here? Where do the


kids go to drink? Sit in the park here. At night-time. DD and his


friends are older, but have been drinking since around the age of


ten and 11. They are clearly proud of the drinking exploits they've


got up to. What is the worst state? Legless. I had to get carried home.


What age did you start drinking? What about you? 14. We had a bottle


of gin and didn't take too well to our bodies. He was sick. I couldn't


walk. I was literally sleeping in this here park, so I was. They had


to carry me home to my back garden and left me there. Called my mum


out and she came and took me up to bed. Why are some young people


drinking so much? The experts largely blame the cheapness and


availability of alcohol. You can now get a bottle of cider cheaper


than certain brands of water. Dr George O'Neill says alcohol is a


legal drug which we treat and buy like a grocery. We have a culture


now where it's acceptable to drink large quantities and to drink


excessively and it's fuelled by the fact it's freely available. You can


dial a taxi and they will deliver Ryan Hilditch drank carryouts for


years. He turned 22 and said last year he drinking finally spiralled


out of control. It was nearly seven days a week. A bottle of Frosty


Jacks and Budweiser and a couple of other cans. Even though he's


unemployed Ryan says he could still afford to drink because of cheap


deals at the supermarkets every day. Cheap drink. You can pick it up in


ASDA. Maybe at the minute it's 20 Carlsberg for �12. Near Christmas


time it was bottles of whiskey. Karl Williams from the Forum for


Action Against Substance Abuse is trying to occupy Ryan with


activities like football to keep his mind off the drink. He says the


trends among young drinkers are increasingly fuelled by the


internet, where people can brag and You can go on to a social website


and see the glamourisation around some of these adventures over the


weekend and the tales they can tell around their drinking. Certainly,


this idea of it's almost seen as a badge of honour. I can do this and


drink this amount. I can do it in this amount of time. Joan McClain


has been horrified by pictures of girls, though not from her school,


that have appeared on the internet. I've been told of young girls


filming themselves going to the toilet and putting it on Facebook.


They obviously wouldn't do that if they weren't under the influence of


alcohol. Just a few weeks ago, David Cameron went to a hospital in


Newcastle upon Tyne to announce new plans to tackle alcohol abuse in


England. He did so for a reason. Because Newcastle is often referred


to the party capital of the UK. It's also here that the shots


culture has reached a point where some pubs and clubs are now selling


nine measures of vodka for as little at �3.99. Perhaps not


surprisingly then, in the north- east, every 18 hours someone dies


as a result of alcohol intake. Bob Senior is the Chief Executive of


some clubs in the area. He feels Belfast still has a chance to avoid


the path Newcastle has gone down, where more drinks promotions have


created a city centre that is off limits to those who only the drink


sometimes. He said there must be a minimum price for alcohol to hit


the supermarkets' cheap deals. supermarkets have done a fantastic


job of diverting attention from the problems they are causing with


super-cheap drinks. The city centres are populated by younger


and younger people who are more and more drunk having preloaded at home


to make the money stretch and clubs that have declined the pricing


policy to compete. Is it not too easy to blame the supermarkets? Do


you not have a social responsibility? Anyone selling the


drug that is alcohol has a social responsibility, but of course the


defence of anybody accused that would to be say it's still more


expensive than the supermarket. Nine shots of spirit for �3.99 is


not irresponsible if the supermarkets are selling it cheap.


The Northern Ireland Retail They say they fund a DrinkAware


campaign as well as carrying information about alcohol units on


their products and preventing underage sales. In Belfast, it


hasn't reached the stage where nightclubs charge �3.99 for nine


shots, but there are still plenty of deals encouraging people to


drink large amounts for very little. When Joby Murphy died there were


public demands for action against the cut-price offers. Now, the


minister says he will ban these types of promotions later this year.


We are at a point now where we are due to bring forward regulations to


ban irresponsible promotions and that will include both on-sales and


off-sales so the days of buy one get one free, or the days of pay


�20 and drink all you can until you fall over, that's something that


would be ruled out by those Stormont is researching the


possibility of a minimum price per unit of drink. This would mean


strong drinks like some ciders and spirits would rise in price. But


average strength wines and beers would stay roughly the same cost.


The Minister accepts he needs minimum pricing alongside a ban on


promotions to fully tackle the issue. Undoubtedly, there will be


challenges on the way. There will be difficulties on the way, because


there are vested interests here, who will want to continue


exploiting vulnerable young people. The first step is to press ahead


with what we can do immediately and that is in terms of the


irresponsible promotions. How can the Minister be sure his ban on


cheap promotions will work? It's clear that the current laws are


being brazenly disregarded. We found evidence that the drinking


laws are being broken as a matter of course. We visited Mynt on


Saturday morning. The doorman was totally unperturbed as he explained


that the police were actually What does the Minister responsible


for licencing have to say when we tell him about this criminality?


Well, the responsibility for the operations as regarding the police,


that's something that needs to be taken up and I would encourage you


to take it up with them. You are the minister for licencing and the


clubs are openly flouting the law. You should be concerned about that.


There's a law there. It should be enforced. I have no control over


the police. In a statement the They also said venues serving after


hours remain a focus for police operations. But while the police


claim to have a focus on this issue, it is absolutely clear that the


four clubs we visited break the law right under their noses. Once the


doorman lets us inside Mynt in the background to the right of the shot,


police are talking to staff. While they are there, the bar is closed.


Once they go, the bar opens and the illegal sale of drink resumes. We


contacted the four nightclubs, Mynt, Kremlin, Rain and Thompsons that we


found serving alcohol after hours, but only one responded. In a


statement Mynt did not address the fact it was breaching licencing


laws, but said it has signed up to the trades voluntary code on drinks


promotions. However the politicians, the police or society decide to


address the issues, back at the SOS bus, volunteer parents are dealing


with the fallout of another night's drinking. Just days after Joby


Murphy accidently fell into the Lagan, Joe Hyland says another


drunk clubber was going to deliberately throw himself into the


river. He was contemplating doing something silly. How much of that


is drink? A lot of it is. Of course it is. He wouldn't do it sober. It


wouldn't enter his mind sober. We all make mistakes. Our society


tells everybody drink is OK. During filming for this programme, the


Beach Club told us it has dropped the Wednesday promotions, following


Joby's death and now employs alcohol awareness stewards to


specifically identify potential drunkenness. Whatever the Beach


Club does now, it is too late for Joby Murphy. Last week, Joe finally


Stephen Dempster finds out how in Northern Ireland we are drinking more than ever before and starting younger - and investigates our relationship with alcohol and the social and financial implications.

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