Monday, 11 July 2011

'Fear and Loathing' in Staly Vegas. The towns night life is killing business, says Councillor!

On their way home after a heavy day boozing, two Dukinfield yobbos (pictured), decided to end their birthday celebrations by launching a vicious and unprovoked attack on an helpless young man who they found sleeping in a bus shelter in Stalybridge, also known as 'Staly Vegas', the popular night spot in Tameside, Greater Manchester.

David Hayward, a 26 year old labourer from Astley Street, Dukinfied, and unemployed 27 year old Dane Simms, from Inverness Road, Dukinfield, brutally attacked their victim punching him about the head and body and then kicking him in the face. Having rifled his pockets, stealing his wallet, mobile phone and cigarettes, they then scurried off like two rats up a drainpipe.

Giving evidence at Minshull Street, Crown Court, Manchester, their victim said:

"The attack was brutal. I didn`t stand a chance."

The court was told that the incident took place in February of this year when Simm`s, had been out celebrating his birthday with Hayward who has a partner and three year old son. The court was also told that the partner of Simm`s, had been forced to take two jobs in order to support him.

As usual in these cases, 'intoxication' was put forward to explain their actions. Shirlie Duckworth, defending' said:

"Hayward was very intoxicated which isn`t an excuse but is perhaps the only way to explain why a young man who`s ordinarily a hard-working family man behaves in a way completely out of character."

Defending Simm`s, Carolyn Smith, said: "that her client had committed one of the biggest mistakes of his life."

Sentencing both men to two-and-half years imprisonment, Judge Michael Blakey, told them:

"This was a horrifying and sickening, prolonged attack, on a defenceless man who was in drink and was clearly afraid of you. One of you held him while the other punched him, kicked him and kneed him in the face. One of you was seen to kick him in the face. This offence is so serious that only immediate custody is justified..."

Nowadays, scenes like this would be commonplace throughout many towns and cities across the country. As in this case, alcohol is often cited as the underlying reason for why many youths resort to this kind of mindless street violence. While there may be some truth in this, I nevertheless, consider it a poor excuse. Surely, it`s not the drink that causes the problems but the burk who`s doing the drinking, that causes the problems. Even when sober, some people are not safe out on the streets.

Some argue that Britain`s boozing culture has got worse since the introduction of 24 hour drinking in 2005, but anyone acquainted with a smattering of English history, would know, that drunkenness has been rife in this country throughout the ages. We have even invented colloquialisms to describe this practice of over indulging in alcohol - 'on the razzle', 'going on a bender', 'a blow out', 'out on the piss'.

Undoubtedly, cultural influences play a part in all of this. Britain`s boozing culture is often compared unfavourably, with the way in which alcohol is consumed by people in the Mediterranean countries, who consume alcohol with food and are less interested in getting drunk. Yet it is argued, that in Northern European countries, consumption of alcohol is often characterised by heavy bouts of prolonged drinking, followed by periods of abstinence. In Britain, not only do many people drink with the intention of getting drunk, but drunkenness, is more or less accepted. This equally applies when the British go abroad. The popular fly-on-the-wall TV documentary, 'Boozed Up Brits Abroad', is about British youths who take advantage of cheap flights to visit European cities, to go on drinking binges.

We know that people`s perceptions about street violence (real or imagined), can have devastating consequences for local economies. The nearby town of Ashton-under-Lyne, has never really recovered from the spate of street killings (four murders in three months) that took place in the town in 2002. This once lively and busy Lancashire town, is now a shadow of its former self, with many pubs and shops now closed. But opinion varies as to why many of our northern towns appear to be in terminal decline.

Cllr. David Sweeton, executive member for business and community development at Tameside Council, believes that Stalybridge suffers because of its 'Staly Vegas' tag as the town struggles to cope with the recession. The town`s night life he believes, is decreasing the town`s status and has affected the town`s daytime business, because people`s perceptions of crime in Stalybridge, puts them off from shopping in the town and also puts off investors. In an interview with the Tameside Reporter, in June, he said:

"We were a thriving community when we had had the 'first generation' bars like the Pavillion and the Millpond. It was like cafe' culture. They had new exciting ideas which attracted the right kind of people, but the recession has hit... We want to attract nice, well mannered people. We`re trying to work with bar owners to stop this 'happy hour' mentality where alcohol is sold at a low price and at an alarming rate. It is unacceptable and is decreasing the town`s status."

To blame low price alcohol, perceptions of crime, the Staly Vegas tag, and the vulgar rabble who drink in the town, for a downturn in the towns economy, does seem to be like clutching at straws and is somewhat disingenuous. One does wonder how often Cllr. Sweeton visits Stalybridge for a night out? Since reading the interview, I have searched in vain for a bar in Stalybridge town centre that does a 'happy hour' where "alcohol is sold at a low price and at an alarming rate." Alas! I have yet to find such a place. As for violence, Stalybridge, doesn`t seem to be any worse than many towns and might be considered better than most. I gather that Yorkshire Street, in Oldham, is known locally as The Gaza Strip, because of the amount of violence on the street at weekends.

Anyone who visits Stalybridge town centre during the week, on an evening, would be aware that the town is dead. Apart from fast-food outlets, and a couple of restaurants, many pubs only open for the weekend. A spokesman for the Warfsteiner pub told the newspaper, that:

"Business was now scarce and that Stalybridge was a ghost town."

Certainly this is an exaggeration, but the town like many other northern towns, has been badly hit by the recession. However, there may be other reasons why people choose not to shop in the town. If you`re looking for a butchers shop you wont find one. The last family butcher closed down a while ago. Indeed, in terms of shopping, there isn`t a great deal on offer. But if you`re into gambling, you wont find it difficult to place a bet: there a now four bookies on one street in the town. No wonder they call the town Staly Vegas.

Some people complain about the influence of TESCO on the town. Since the store came to the town, many local shops have struggled to cope with the decline in customers and many shops have now closed. Others, complain that there are too many pubs, too many bookies, and that the town needs a facelift. Responding to this criticism, Cllr. Sweeton, told The Reporter:

"Licensing legislation does not allow us to say 'no' when it comes to restricting the number of bars and bookies in the area... shopping at TESCO is more convenient, and we need a product that will encourage people to come into the area."

A recent study by 'Simply Business', predicts that 10,000 shops in the UK will close this year. One-in-six high street shops now stand empty as many stores struggle to compete with supermarkets and larger chains. What is on the increase on our high streets, are poundshops, bookies and pawnbrokers. Real wage levels are falling as pay fails to keep up with the rise in the cost of living and people spend less, which leads to business failure and more unemployment. While pay for the rich has soared, incomes for the rest, have stagnated. A survey by the TUC, published in May, showed that pay for middle income workers in Britain, has gone up by 56% since 1978 even though GDP has risen by 108% over the same period. For the low paid, the results are even worse. Their income has risen a mere 27% over the last 30 years. The only group to have seen their incomes rise in line the GDP, are the highest paid 10%.

Britain is now one of the most unequal societies in Europe. Serious social deprivation now exists in many northern towns, including Tameside. In South Shields (one of the poorest town`s in Britain), some households haven`t seen a wage packet in twenty years. The seaside resort of Blackpool, has the highest level of alcohol related deaths in England and the highest population of heroin and crack addicts.

In May, The Guardian, reported that North Yorkshire police had recently advertised 60 jobs and had received 300,000 applications. Some have suggested that Britain is becoming a nation of ghettos and what we are witnessing, is a 'pandemic disease of working-class poverty'( Peter Dunn - The Independent 5/5/11). If this is so, the future looks bleak for many.

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