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Underage drinking’s link to crime

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screen-shot-2016-11-17-at-11-21-56IN THE PAST two years, 1229 alcohol-related crimes have been committed by children in Wales.

Details of the crimes – which range from rape and assault to criminal damage and possession of a weapon – were made public following a Freedom of Information request from the Welsh Conservatives.

‘A RUINOUS EFFECT ON YOUNGSTERS’

The data from each of Wales’ four police forces show that children as young as 10 are accessing alcohol and committing violent crime.

Between 2014 and 2016, North Wales Police reported 375 incidences of crime committed by people aged 18 and under; South Wales Police reported 250 incidences; Dyfed- Powys Police reported 182; while Gwent Police reported 105 incidences in the last year alone.

Prevalence of crimes committed by underage drinkers was highest in Carmarthenshire (137 arrests), followed closely by Wrexham (113 arrests), then by Bridgend (106 arrests).

Some of the more disturbing crimes recorded were 11 accounts of rape in north Wales – with one offender aged just 13; five offences of racially or religiously aggravated incidences in south Wales, including actual bodily harm and beatings; 10 offences of drug possession in Dyfed- Powys; and four arrests for drink driving in Gwent.

Angela Burns AM, Welsh Conservative Shadow Secretary for Health, said: “It’s clear from the data that alcohol is having a ruinous effect on many Welsh youngsters and the communities in which they live.

“As these crimes demonstrate, underage drinking is fuelling some heinous antisocial behaviour at a huge cost to the public purse and to the victims they affect.

“A criminal record also carries a cost; an offender’s life prospects are likely to be significantly diminished, affecting employment opportunities and even car insurance premiums.

“Police forces and health services need to work much more closely with schools to develop an effective programme of education warning children against the dangers of substance misuse.

“The numbers make plain the fact that the Welsh Government’s strategy for tackling substance misuse is failing far too many of our most vulnerable members of society.

“More focus should be placed on empowering communities to respond to their problems, which are often unique in nature and in scale to their locality.”

COSTS OF ALCOHOL ABUSE ‘INCALCULABLE’

Mark Isherwood AM, Shadow Secretary for Social Justice, said: “The cost to society of alcohol abuse is incalculable and is often a contributory factor in poor health, unwanted pregnancy and, as these figures show, youth crime.

“The deep-rooted causes of underage drinking must be tackled through interventions that are targeted at children and young people most vulnerable to this kind of behaviour – before they take a collision course with the law.

“The Welsh Government needs to work far better with headteachers and the voluntary and independent sectors to find innovative and joined up solutions to this unacceptable antisocial issue.”

YOUNG DRINKERS ALSO VICTIMS

At first glance, official figures on drinking habits indicate that, in recent years, while young people have been drinking above the average unit consumption per week, they now drink less than the UK average. Young people also drink fewer times during the week than most other age groups. But when they do drink, a significant proportion engage in heavy episodic or ‘binge’ drinking. The most notable example of this is among young women; the highest age-specific proportion of female binge drinkers are in the 16 to 24 year-old age bracket.

These current trends are at odds with the wider historical overview of young persons’ alcohol consumption in the UK.

In the interwar period, they were the lightest drinkers in the adult population and the group most likely to abstain. Nor did alcohol play a significant part in the youth culture that came into existence in the 1950s, this being more likely to involve the coffee bar than the pub.

It was not until the 1960s that pubs and drinking became an integral part of the youth scene. By the 1980s, young people had become the heaviest drinkers in the population, and the group least likely to abstain. This has resulted in continuous rises in the number of admissions to hospitals over the past decade, and in the case of females aged between 15 and 34, a doubling in the rate of alcohol-related deaths in the last 20 years.

A number of academic studies have found links between young people drinking and being involved in fights, sustaining injuries and committing violent crime. Frequent, heavy or problem drinking in 15 and 16-year-olds is associated with violent but not property offences, while other research has found a diagnosis of alcohol abuse or dependence is associated with both.

Survey evidence also suggests that teenage drinkers are more likely to carry weapons. Conversely, it has been shown that 11–16 who drink more or are more frequently drunk are more susceptible to being the victims of violent attacks.

MISUSE OF ALCOHOL PRIORITISED

The Herald put the Conservative’s statement to Dyfed-Powys Police, and Temporary Chief Inspector Dyfed Bolton told us: “Alcohol misuse and related crime is an issue that the police face in every area and Dyfed-Powys is no exception. Misuse of alcohol by young people is prioritised and there are initiatives in place to try and tackle this and ensure young people don’t get involved with alcohol in the first place.

“Officers regularly visit local schools as part of the All Wales School Liaison Core Programme, and this offers a series of lesson plans addressing key areas of concern around substance misuse. The programme also aims to deter children from crime, and sets out clearly the consequences of committing various crimes, as well as the harm alcohol and crimes have on them and others around them, not just in the short-term but also for their future.

“Reducing the harm caused by alcohol consumption is a priority for Dyfed-Powys Police, and we work with our partners to deliver lessons and provide support to youngsters on the serious consequences of under-age drinking and any associated anti-social behaviour and various crimes, and take further action where necessary. Hard hitting ‘Paul’s Pledge’ has also been delivered in schools and colleges throughout the force area to hammer home the devastating consequences of alcohol-related violent crime.”

AN ALL-TIME LOW

We approached the Welsh Government for a response to the Conservatives’ claims and a robust defence was offered of the Welsh Government’s record.

A spokesperson told us: “It is important to put these figures in context. Drinking among 11 to 15-year-olds in Wales has declined sharply since the late 1990s. It is now at a record low.

“We work closely with the Youth Justice Board on preventing young people from entering the youth justice system through early intervention and diversion – including those young people who misuse drugs and alcohol. We also ring fence £2.75m of our Substance Misuse Action Fund to provide support and services to children and young people in Wales.

“The All Wales Schools Liaison Programme goes into every primary and secondary school in Wales to raise awareness of the harm caused by substance misuse, including alcohol.”

DIRECT ACTION MUST BE TAKEN

Plaid Cymru Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Health and Social Care, Rhun ap Iorwerth, said: “Underage drinking can cause huge problems in society, and the accounts of alcohol-related crime released by the four police forces are very worrying.

“But as well as considering the impact of these crimes on the community, we must consider causes of such behaviour.

“We need to work with young people who are offenders, and Plaid Cymru has long called for greater emphasis on education in order to improve children’s welfare from the early years. Where children are found to be struggling, we want to maintain counselling services for them.

“But we also need to take direct action to stop young people drinking too much. The introduction of a minimum price for alcohol can help combat the very cheap and very potent alcohol that creates so many problems in our communities. Research shows that a price rise is often linked to a reduction in consumption, so this is something we need to consider.”

ALCOHOL MISUSE HAS DEVASTATING EFFECT

Regional AM Eluned Morgan responded to the Conservatives’ criticism by telling The Herald: “Alcohol and substance misuse can have devastating effects on individuals, families, and communities. Patterns of alcohol consumption are changing and it’s of great concern that increasing numbers of people are damaging their health through excessive drinking.”

She explained: “We need to focus on what drives people to misuse drugs or alcohol, whether the right national approach and local services are in place to raise awareness of their harms, and to give people help when they need it most. That’s why it’s so important that the Welsh Government is taking action at a strategic level in order to raise awareness of the harms associated with alcohol and substance misuse, as well as tackle them. Improved training may be also required for GPs – there has been an associated rise in the prevalence of alcohol related conditions.

“The Wales Bill, which I am leading on for the Opposition in the House of Lords, seeks to provide the Assembly with an appropriate set of powers to enable the Welsh Government to address problems such as those relating to alcohol and substance misuse. At the moment, the Assembly’s powers are limited by the UK Government. This is why it’s so important for the Wales Bill to add to the powers of the Government in Wales to act in a way which benefits the people of Wales, not roll them back as the Conservatives in Westminster are doing.”

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Ceredigion’s Energy Efficiency work recognised at the Wales Energy Efficiency Awards

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ON June, 17, 2022, Wales Regional Energy Efficiency Awards were held in Cardiff. Ceredigion County Council’s Energy Efficiency Schemes scooped 2 awards.

The Energy Efficiency Awards were introduced to help recognise the fantastic work being undertaken by the energy efficiency sector in Wales. The measures were introduced to help homeowners reduce their energy bills, tackle fuel poverty and reduce Carbon emissions.

Ceredigion County Council have been delivering the ECO Local Authority Flexibility scheme along with the Warm Homes Cozy Ceredigion Scheme for a number of years. These schemes have seen a number of insulation measures and heating systems being installed in properties improving their energy efficiency. With the drive towards renewable heating systems the concentration lately has been on the installation of air source heat pumps.

The Council scooped the top prize for the Regional Council or Local Authority of the Year where one exceptional council in each of the 11 Regional areas of the UK has shown a true commitment to promoting energy efficiency within their region. This award was sponsored by Improveasy.

For this award, the judges look at the impact their work has had within the local community, what their customer and local community have to say about the council, what level of expertise the council has within its own teams and what priority the council gives to tackling fuel poverty within its current plans.

The Council also won the Regional Vulnerable Customer Support Organisation of the Year having shown a true commitment to improving the lives of vulnerable people within their region. This award was sponsored by Consumer Energy Solutions.

Councillor Matthew Vaux, is the Cabinet Member responsible for the Housing Service. He said: “I would like to congratulate the Housing team for their hard work and success at the Regional Energy Efficiency Awards this year. With the current rise in fuel costs and the increase in cost of living, this is a fantastic achievement for the Council’s housing team in showcasing that they are helping our residents save energy and combat fuel poverty.”

Find more information about Energy Efficiency Schemes on the Council’s website: www.ceredigion.gov.uk/resident/housing/financial-assistance/energy-efficiency-schemes/

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The Welsh Government launches Basic Income pilot scheme

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FROM 1 July 2022, more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1600 each month (before tax) for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.

Launched by First Minister Mark Drakeford, it is hoped the pilot will set care leavers on a path to live healthy, happy and fulfilling lives.

The radical approach has trust, autonomy and respect at its centre. It will provide independence and security to people who have faced immense challenges during their childhood, giving them greater control and empowering them to make decisions about their future.

The £20 million pilot, which will run for three years, will be evaluated to carefully examine its effect on the lives of those involved

Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt said the scheme is a direct investment in the lives and futures of some of Wales’ most vulnerable young people.

Those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.

Local authorities will play a key role in supporting them throughout the pilot. Voices from Care Cymru will also work with the young people to give them advice on wellbeing, education, employment and help them plan their future after the pilot.

To launch the scheme, First Minister Mark Drakeford, Social Justice Minister Jane Hutt and Deputy Minister for Social Services Julie Morgan met with people taking part in the pilot, and young people who themselves have been in care, to talk about the impact this support will have on peoples’ lives.

They discussed how they hope the financial stability will give people the opportunity to make positive life choices as they leave care and provide a more solid foundation from which to build their adult lives.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential. The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.

“Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.

“Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people – myself included – have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.

“Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot, but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society. If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.”

Minister for Social Justice Jane Hutt said: “We’re in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis like no other and we therefore need new ways of supporting people who are most in need.

“Our Basic Income pilot is an incredibly exciting project giving financial stability to a generation of young people. Too many people leaving care face huge barriers to achieving their hopes and ambitions; such as problems with getting a safe and stable home, to securing a job and building a fulfilling career. This scheme will help people live a life free of such barriers and limitations.

“We will carefully evaluate the lessons learnt from the pilot. Listening to everyone who takes part will be crucial in determining the success of this globally ambitious project. We will examine whether Basic Income is an efficient way to support society’s most vulnerable and not only benefit the individual, but wider society too.”

Tiff Evans of Voices from Care Cymru, speaking on behalf of young people who have experienced care, said: “This is a brilliant opportunity for care leavers in Wales. It is good to see that care leavers in Wales are being thought of and Welsh Government are providing this opportunity for them as young people to become responsible, control some parts of their lives and have a chance to thrive and be financially independent.

“We thank Welsh Government for investing in them and their future and we look forward to other changes and developments for care experienced young people in Wales in order for them to reach life aspirations.”

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Ceredigion man living in Ireland sentenced after involvement in illegal meat operation

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A CEREDIGION man living in Ireland has been extradited and sentenced after his involvement in illicit farming and trading of meat that was unfit for human consumption.

Robert Thomas, 45, was found to be part of an organised crime group (OCG), who were involved in running an illegal meat operation, where “smokies” were being prepared for human consumption. The production of “smokies” involves the illegal slaughter of sheep which, as part of the production process, have their fleece retained on the carcasses and burnt with blow torches to impart a smoked flavour to the meat. This process is illegal in the UK and many European countries.

The initial prosecution was undertaken by Ceredigion County Council in 2015, but due to Mr Thomas persistence in evading justice it has taken 7 years for the proceedings to reach a conclusion. The prosecution involved Mr Thomas and another male person from Ceredigion, who is still wanted on warrant in respect of the charges.

At Swansea Crown Court in December 2015, Thomas was sentenced to a 28-week term of imprisonment, suspended for two years and was ordered to undertake 200 hours of unpaid work and ordered confiscation proceedings to try and identify and recover any assets obtained by Thomas, through his illegal activities. That confiscation investigation was undertaken by officers in the Tarian Regional Economic Crime Unit (RECU) assisted by Ceredigion County Council. Various Proceeds of Crime Act hearings took place during which Thomas gave evidence on oath that his assets and income were minimal.

He declared that he had two old cars and was earning just £40 per week working for his parents. He also claimed that he had two UK bank accounts with no money in them and produced bank statements to prove so. Over the course of three years, Thomas persistently denied having any more than this, and in April 2017 he failed to appear at court.

Further investigations revealed that Thomas held a number of bank accounts and held property and land in Ireland.

A European Arrest Warrant was subsequently obtained, and he was finally located in Ireland and arrested in December 2021 by the Irish authorities and extradited to the UK in February 2022.

On Monday 13 June 2022, Thomas appeared in Bristol Crown Court having previously entered a guilty plea to a charge of perjury. At sentencing, His Honour Judge Cullen described Thomas’ actions as ‘a considered lie and a practiced lie’. He also said that giving sworn evidence to a Judge was a serious matter which could only be dealt with by an immediate imprisonment and requires a significant custodial sentence.

Thomas was sentenced to 22 months imprisonment for perjury and for breach of a Community Order, he was sentenced to 2 months imprisonment to run consecutively, making a total of 24 months imprisonment.

Councillor Mathew Vaux, Ceredigion County Council Cabinet Member for Public Protection Services, said: “This case has shown that regulatory services will work together effectively in partnership in order to bring justice for these serious crimes. The illegal trade in “smokies” is a serious public health risk, as the meat is often infected with diseases and parasites that could pass to those people who eat the meat. The animals are also killed inhumanely with no regard to their welfare, which is against the principles of high animal welfare held by the farming community of Ceredigion County Council.”

The proceeds of Crime Act proceedings have not been concluded as Thomas has not fully discharged his liabilities under the Order which the Court concluded amounted to a criminal benefit sum of over £200,000. Thomas will therefore be subject to further legal proceedings.

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