Curmudgeon News - January 2001

  • Bass Takeover Blocked
  • No Fall in Christmas Drink-Driving
  • Gene Tests Reveal Drinkers' Limits
  • Bar Staff Humiliate Cancer Woman
  • "Metric Martyr" Awaits Verdict
  • Half Teenagers Can Find Bootleg Beer
  • Stricter Curbs Urged on Hard Core Drink-Drivers
  • Handgun Crime Soars Despite Dunblane Ban
  • Mobiles Turn Kids into Milksops
  • Ban on US Cigarette Sales Demanded

Complete News Index


  • Bass Takeover Blocked

    The 2.3bn takeover of Bass's beer operations by the brewer of Stella Artois was blocked by the UK government over fears the deal would lead to a surge in the price of a pint. The deal would have brought together many of the UK's best selling beers, including Carling, Stella Artois, Boddingtons, Worthington and Caffrey's. Jobs may also have been a factor in the government's decision to block the take-over, as the deal was expected to lead to the closure of a number of UK breweries. Stephen Byers, trade and industry secretary, ordered Interbrew, the world's second largest brewer, to put the Bass breweries it bought in June back up for sale. Excellent news and well done to the government for - on this occasion at least - taking the right decision. Hopefully they will recognise that in the beer market the consumer interest is best served by diversity of ownership, and that concentration of market share leads to higher prices and less effective competition.

  • No Fall in Christmas Drink-Driving

    Breath-test figures released during January showed that drink-drivers continued to be a menace on Greater Manchester roads at Christmas. Positive tests were 24 per cent up on last year - and 56 per cent higher than Christmas 1998. Police chiefs were trying to find out why drivers were ignoring massively-publicised warnings. Throughout Greater Manchester, during the Christmas and New Year fortnight, 78 drivers were arrested when they provided positive breath tests after 452 road accidents involving injury, compared with figures of 63 arrests after 372 crashes in 1999. As these figures only represent a rise from 16.94% to 17.26%, it's hard to see why it justified such a hysterical over-reaction from the "Manchester Evening News". The greater number of accidents was no doubt due to the poor driving conditions caused by snow and ice this year. And surely publicity campaigns would be much more effective if they admitted honestly that the law represents a limit, not a prohibition, that a half of mild does not turn a driver into a drunken killer, and that drivers may still be well over the limit the next day following a heavy drinking session.

  • Gene Tests Reveal Drinkers' Limits

    Drinkers are soon to be offered a genetic test which will identify those running the biggest risk of liver damage if they over-indulge. Scientists at the Centre for Liver Research in Newcastle have identified genes significant in the development of alcoholic liver disease. The more of these altered genes a person possesses, the more at risk they are from drink. A simple blood test is all that is needed to establish which group the patient falls into. Although there is a direct association between alcohol intake and liver disease, up to a third of heavy drinkers have normal livers and only 10 per cent get serious disease. Sounds intriguing - but there must be a risk that those found to be lacking the altered genes will just be tempted to go for it as they stand a good chance of avoiding serious harm!

  • Bar Staff Humiliate Cancer Woman

    A cancer sufferer who had undergone a course of chemotherapy left a Stockport pub in tears after staff ordered her to remove her baseball cap. Rachel Worsencroft, 22, of Reddish, had worn the headgear to the Chestergate pub to conceal the hair loss caused by her treatment. Despite explaining the situation, she was told she was contravening the pub's dress code. She eventually left the premises with the group of friends she was accompanying for lunch. She said: "I couldn't believe what was happening. I began filling up with tears and choking on my words. It was absolutely awful." This underlines the point that all dress codes are inherently unreasonable and open to abuse by jobsworths who don't understand the concept of discretion. And it would have to happen in a keg pub, wouldn't it?

  • "Metric Martyr" Awaits Verdict

    A greengrocer charged with selling goods by the pound rather than the kilogram will have to wait three months before finding out if he is guilty of breaking European law. The magistrate hearing the case of Steven Thoburn told the court that because of the complexity of the evidence he would reserve his judgement until 9 April. Mr Thoburn was prosecuted by Sunderland City Council after being caught by undercover trading standards officers selling bananas by the pound. Things have come to a desperate state when they're using undercover spies to catch traders out who are simply using the traditional measures that have been used in this country for hundreds of years and are the overwhelming preference of their customers. It's on a par with banning Welsh people from speaking their native tongue, a practice thankfully long since abandoned.

  • Half Teenagers Can Find Bootleg Beer

    Nearly half of British teenagers know where to buy alcohol that has been smuggled illegally into the country, according to a survey carried out on behalf of the Brewers and Licensed Retailers Association. 46% of 15 to 17-year-olds said they knew where to buy beer from an illegal source, and as many as 11% said they had bought alcohol from bootleggers. Hardly a surprise, that one, and customs crackdowns will do little to change the situation. It's a major achievement of our present government to have turned the previously highly-regulated and law-abiding alcohol and tobacco markets into offshoots of the international drugs trade, by their ostrich-like refusal to budge on the duty issue.

  • Stricter Curbs Urged on Hard Core Drink-Drivers

    Police chiefs have demanded new powers to stop persistent drink drivers on suspicion at any time. They want to be able to breathalyse them without having to meet the legal test of suspecting that an offence is being committed. Ken Williams, Chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers traffic committee, said it was consulting the Government over stiffer sentences for repeat drink drivers and new powers to breathalyse. They would be aimed at a hard core of persistent offenders and "would not be applied indiscriminately against the general driving public". While there is much to be said for targeting enforcement more closely on hard-core offenders, the question must be asked under what circumstances precisely the police would be able to carry out breath tests with new powers that they can't do now, given the liberal way in which they interpret their current powers. If they don't even suspect someone is over the limit, what's the point in breathalysing him (except maybe to warn him off on future occasions). And what safeguards would there be against harassment either of individuals or particular licensed premises?

  • Handgun Crime Soars Despite Dunblane Ban

    The number of crimes involving handguns reached its highest level for seven years in 2000, with a total of 3685 crimes including 42 murders, 310 attempted murders, 2,561 robberies and 204 burglaries. This led the pro-gun lobby to suggest that the ban introduced after the Dunblane massacre of 16 children and a teacher has proved ineffective. Richard Law, secretary of the Shooters' Rights Association, said: "This proves that the problem was not the licensed gun owners - illegal ownership was the problem in the first place. Every year there was a slight increase in gun crime and every year the Government blamed it on licensed holders. Now they've got nobody to blame but themselves." He suggested that the Government should consider giving back firearms to licensed holders. One of the government's earliest ill-considered knee-jerk measures now stands utterly discredited. Law-abiding people have been penalised while lawless criminals have prospered. But will they ever learn the lesson?

  • Mobiles Turn Kids into Milksops

    Mobile phones are being blamed for turning a generation of children into milksops who remain dependent on their parents far longer than ever before. Not only are teenagers using the phones to request more lifts home, says Hilary Fender, headmistress of Headington School in Oxford, but they are increasingly involving parents in everyday decisions. Mrs Fender believes the mobile phone has become part of the "no risk" cocoon that parents construct around their children. My gut feeling has always been against the things (although I must admit to having one myself for work-related purposes), and this is just further evidence. They have their - very limited - uses, but in general they just end up sapping self-reliance, eroding privacy and, worst of all - disturbing a quiet pint in the pub.

  • Ban on US Cigarette Sales Demanded

    Former head of the US Food and Drug Administration, David Kessler, who is credited with framing the Clinton administration's tobacco policy, has urged that the sale of cigarettes be banned. In his new book "A Question of Intent: A Great American Battle with a Deadly Industry", Kessler says that cigarettes should be available only to those already "addicted", but should no longer be sold for profit. The removal of the profit motive would, he believes, rapidly lead to the demise of the tobacco industry. As they stumble towards banning tobacco, the Americans seem to have completely forgotten the lessons of alcohol prohibition, which did little to cut consumption, and was the foundation of the current strength of organised crime in their country. And of course the drugs trade is scarcely hampered by its inability to declare legal profits.

Complete News Index

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