Feature Alcohol Related Harm

New way to call time on high strength, cheap alcohol

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.g2572 (Published 11 April 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2572
  1. Jonathan Gornall, freelance journalist
  1. jonathangornall{at}mac.com

The government dropped its plan to introduce a minimum unit price for alcohol in England after lobbying by industry. But a remarkable grassroots initiative that removes cheap, high strength alcohol from the retail shelves is rapidly sweeping the nation—much to industry’s alarm, reports Jonathan Gornall

Lorraine Thorpe was 15 years old when she became Britain’s youngest female double murderer. In August 2009, she and Paul Clarke, a 41 year old member of a group of street drinkers in the Suffolk town of Ipswich, tortured and beat to death a fellow alcoholic, a 41 year old woman. Later, the pair smothered Thorpe’s alcoholic father, fearing he would tell the police.

In 2010 Thorpe and Clarke were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment. Thorpe was told she must serve at least 14 years in prison.

In November 2011 Suffolk police disclosed that the two killings had been the start of a two year period during which the harmful consumption of cheap alcohol had played a part in the deaths of 12 members of Ipswich’s street drinking community, four of whom had been murdered.

The killings were also the impetus for a remarkable voluntary initiative that in the past 18 months has seen cheap, high strength alcohol products swept from the shelves of most of Ipswich’s shops and which is now being adopted by authorities across England and Wales.

It is a grassroots phenomenon that seems to have taken both politicians and the industry by surprise and which, by an entirely unexpected backdoor approach, appears to be having the same intended effect as the minimum unit pricing policy, abandoned by the government in July 2013.

Focus on street drinking

In June 2011, police and partners, including the borough and county councils and Suffolk Drug and Alcohol Team, launched Start Afresh, a multiagency initiative designed to …

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