Alcohol sales to street drinkers could be traced with forensic technology

Growing concerns about the negative impact street drinking will have on the city’s image has led West Yorkshire Police to launch the scheme. Credit: Jane Barlow 

Shopkeepers that sell "superstrength" alcohol to street drinkers could soon be identified and fined using forensic technology that can trace exactly where cans were purchased.

Under a new scheme, cans and bottles of alcohol in Bradford city centre will be marked with a special liquid that can be used by police to track it back to the retailer.

Growing concerns about the negative impact of street drinking on Bradford's image prompted West Yorkshire Police to introduce the scheme, funded by taxes on local businesses through Bradford Business Improvement District, a public-private partnership.

The liquid used to identify cans is known as SmartWater. It can be identified by police officers shining ultraviolet light on cans and bottles. The liquid glows with a distinctive colour to help identify its strength and source.

Frustrated business owners have complained about the anti-social behaviour visible in the city centre. Repeat offenders found to be selling alcohol to street drinkers risk fines of up to £20,000 and will be issued a community protection notice, which aims to prevent unreasonable behaviour.

The licensing act of 2003 means shopkeepers selling alcohol must take care to not do business with people likely to cause trouble in public.

Insp Pete Hall, head of Bradford's neighbourhood policing team, said the trial is not "about catching retailers" but helping "tackle the source of problems and prevent them spreading".

In a similar scheme in Wakefield, police found a 60 per cent reduction in street drinking. The Bradford scheme is the first to have legal consequences for shop owners.