Community worker Rick Wilson witnesses first hand the shocking realities when youngsters are supplied with alcohol. He speaks to STEF HALL about drinking dens and booze-filled house parties, as part of the Evening Post’s investigation into underage drinking.
On the floor of the grubby terraced house was a single, filthy mattress, with empty alcohol bottles strewn around the floor.
Most of the house’s interior was devastated, with smashed windows, broken and torn sofas and internal doors completely off their hinges.
The rooms were littered with paraphernalia linked to cannabis use.
In charge was 16-year-old Jess, who still had access to her old home - where, although she never admitted it, safety teams feared she was being used for sex by older men.
When alcohol action workers visited the property after spotting children entering a back yard they found at least 50 Lancashire children, some just 13 years old, were planning on spending the night there.
Welcome to the world of ‘drinking dens’, a phenomenon anti alcohol teams are hoping to stamp out.
A survey of 14 to 17-year-olds across Lancashire by the team reveals at least 200 Preston youngsters know of similar ‘party houses’ near them where they could obtain alcohol.
It is just one of many threats to young drinkers that Lancashire Trading Standards Community Alcohol Network (CAN) team are fighting.
Rick Wilson, based at County Hall in Preston, has worked for CAN for three years.
He says: “This is an extreme - but by no means isolated example of how giving a teenager a few drinks can escalate, and how vulnerable youngsters can find themselves.
“Many of the childrens’ parents would not have known where they were that night - yet some of them would have given their children alcohol without thinking of the bigger picture.
“Children who drink are at risk of being exploited and groomed, of being involved in an accident, becoming a victim or perpetrator of crime.
“They could take risks. For every one we find there are several more we don’t know about.”
The CAN Safe team is frequently left to pick up the pieces when alcohol is supplied to children.
Made up of different organisations which gather intelligence from partners including neighbourhood police and treatment agencies, its staff prepare a list of places to target, such as parks and open spaces, suspected drinking dens and licensed premises who may be supplying to children.
At the minute they operate in South Ribble, Lancaster, and East Lancashire. It is hoped a scheme will be rolled out in Preston next year, though similar operations have already taken place in the city.
Rick recalls: “On one operation children were dropped off in a ginnel that led to a park at 8pm on a summer evening, with beer put in their backpacks.
“By the time we caught up with the kids, the car had gone. We could smell cannabis on them. The parents had to come back for them. “It is encouraging to see from the survey that the number of children drinking continues to fall, however, there are still those who continue to drink, and do so to harmful levels.
“Young people drinking in open spaces has reduced considerably - it has dropped from 50 per cent to 14 per cent. It’s because they are getting stopped every weekend by vigilant teams, which is making it difficult for them. An emerging threat now are naive parents who are persuaded to host parties by their children.”
On one occasion, Rick and the team were sent to Cottam and discovered a mum throwing a party in a plush, detached home.
He says: “There were at least 80 kids there, with one parent supervising. It was impossible to supervise them.
“The amount of alcohol was unbelievable - it was everywhere, in the garden and house and was mainly alcopops.
“The children were 14 to 16. The mum said she realised the party had got out of control and she did not know what to do about it. This happened around 18 months ago but cases like it are still going on.”
Rick adds: “Parents who host 16th birthday parties in places like working men’s clubs also pose a problem.
“They are usually organised on social media, and more people turn up than expected.
“Many youngsters have been drinking beforehand and by the time they’ve got there they are in a really vulnerable position. Parent might think their child’s itinerary is food, cinema and tucked up in their onesies by 10pm in their friend’s house. Most parents are genuinely shocked when we confront them and reveal what their children were doing. It’s usually because they have been given a convincing account of where their child was going. Parents say they thought they were drinking it in a safe environment, they thought they were giving them small amounts. Usually their intentions are well meant but in my opinion naive.”
l See tomorrow for a harrowing story of how one man lost everything after becoming hooked on alcohol