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Army could patrol UK streets

SA | June 19, 2005

Young Britons enjoying drink-soaked nights out around Britain this summer could soon be in for a shock, a report said late on Saturday - troops patrolling the streets to keep order.

In an attempt to crack down on alcohol-fuelled disorder, dozens of towns around the country will draft in military police to help civilian officers arrest drunken yobs, the Sunday Telegraph newspaper said.

Home secretary Charles Clarke has ordered the initiative following an experiment at a town in Hertfordshire, southern England, where military police were used to patrol the streets late at night.

They were mainly there to keep order among soldiers from a nearby army base, but also arrested civilians who were drunk and causing trouble, which they are entitled to do under British law, the paper said.

Local police found people responding well to the uniformed military officers - who were not armed, but carried batons - and the government decided to expand the experiment to a series of other towns, mainly near military bases.

"We do not expect hundreds of troops on the streets, but we think the very presence of unarmed troops will deter bad behaviour," a ministry of defence official told the paper.

However, civil rights groups have expressed concern, the report added.

Previously, the military had only been used to preserve civil order in Northern Ireland and the government had to be "very careful" about using them on the mainland in peacetime, campaign group Liberty said.

The government has put increasing pressure in recent months on pubs and bars to eradicate alcohol-fuelled disorder, for example ending "happy hours" where drinks are sold at a discount.

A series of surveys about the increasing amounts of alcohol consumed by young Britons, both men and women, have caused alarm among ministers.

Deaths from cirrhosis of the liver among 25- to 44-year-olds, one of the best indicators of heavy drinking, have shot up almost 10-fold over the past three decades, according to government figures.

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