Durham Chief Constable: “Ludicrous” to expect police officers to “babysit” students

Polcie CarBy Henry Clare 

Durham’s Chief Police Constable Mike Barton has claimed that it is “ludicrous” to expect him to make police officers patrol the riverbank to ensure that students don’t fall in.

The comes less than two weeks after the body of Euan Coulthard, a second year Law student at St Mary’s College, was recovered from the river.

In the last 14 months, three students have died after falling into the river after evenings out, and a petition launched to urge the council to install barriers, CCTV and lighting by the river has attracted over 15,000 signatures.

Speaking to BBC Radio Newcastle this morning, Constable Barton urged students to take more “personal responsibility” for their actions.

“There’s one that’s connected these young men that have died in the river – they were all paralytically drunk, so drunk that they weren’t in control of their bodies, and they’ve walked or stumbled into the river.

“Some people are saying that this is because we need to fence the river – no we don’t.

“There may be some parts of the river that need to be looked at – the bottom of the stairs, for example – but what we need to look at is the personal responsibility of young men and women who are coming away to University and starting their lives. They need to be behaving socially responsibly”.

Last Friday morning, a male student was rescued after falling in to the river by Hild Bede College. At the time, Dave Orford, Assistant Chief Constable of Durham Police claimed that the “reckless consumption of alcohol was a key feature” in the incident.

Constable Barton said he was “relieved” to learn that the student had been rescued.

Water Smaller“I was grateful, and it was a great sense of relief, but I was absolutely incensed when I heard some members and representatives of the student body saying that the answer is for us to have more police officers by the river.

“It’s ludicrous that society is asking me to put police officers on the riverbank to stop bright young things from falling in. What sort of world have we come to?”.

Sergeant Mick Irwin, from the Durham Alcohol Reduction Unit, was also interviewed on the programme, claiming that alcohol is at the heart of the problems surrounding riverside safety.

“No matter what safety measures are put in, whether it be CCTV, whether it be lighting, whether it be signs, barriers or whatever, if someone has had too much to drink, they will either climb a barrier or ignore a sign.

“That’s not the solution. It might be part of the solution, but it’s not the solution. We need to tackle the bigger issue here, and the bigger issue is the amount that student’s are drinking.

“We want them [students] to enjoy the nights out that they have in Durham, but when they’re drinking to that point and that excessively, they need to take personal responsibility for that, because the only person drinking that alcohol is them, they choose to drink that much”.

Sgt. Irwin also claimed that incidents like the deaths of Euan Coulthard, Luke Pearce and Sope Peters could be prevented if students stick together on evenings out.

“One of the measures that we want to get across to the students is please, if you’re out with a group, stick together. If someone gets separated from the group, then gather them back and look after them.

“If someone is feeling ill because of the drink then get them back to wherever they live. If necessary, call an ambulance is it’s that bad, but we’re really asking students to look after each other.

Photographs: and Venus Loi 

12 thoughts on “Durham Chief Constable: “Ludicrous” to expect police officers to “babysit” students

  • I think patrols along the river don’t go far enough. Why can’t police officers drive me home, make me toast, and tuck me in at night? Durham City Council is shirking its duty to keep me warm, content and comfortable.

    • It’s not a money issue. Not everyone believes railings & lights are the answer. The answer is a change in attitude. No different to spreading the ‘don’t drink & drive’ mentality. If you’ve been drinking, don’t walk home by the river, and don’t let your friends walk home by the river either.

    • I think it should be a combination of the two! It seems irresponsible of the police just to blame drinking. There are lots of people walking around at Durham late at night who are completely sober too, after productions, or rehearsals or any other kind of activity. Lighting and railings would be beneficial to Everyone, to help make Durham safer. Sometimes it is not always possible to walk home with someone, especially livers out after an event. Of course we should all try and be responsible, but there are lots of places where lighting is an issue and the river is always going to be dangerous. We’re not asking the police to ‘babysit’ students, just to help us tackle this situation, to prevent anymore lives being lost.

    • Of course activities end late night. But that doesn’t change the fact that it’s unwise to walk home along the dark riverside. Take a road with street lighting, and remind friends to do the same.

  • Why don’t the Student Union organise patrols? Work out a rota, get some hi-viz jackets for the patrollers, and protect your own.

  • the council needs to take responsibility for securing river walks and boundaries… 3 students dead is 3 students too many!

  • Maybe we don’t always need to look at the solutions only, but rather at the problem! “There’s one that’s connected these young men that have died in the river – they were all paralytically drunk, so drunk that they weren’t in control of their bodies, and they’ve walked or stumbled into the river.” “What we need to look at is the personal responsibility of young men and women who are coming away to University and starting their lives. They need to be behaving socially responsibly”.

  • Surely the principle of installing safety features (lights, railings etc) along the riverside follows the same principles of why we have traffic lights and zebra crossings..

    We know that people drive and that cars on the road are dangerous so we install features to help protect pedestrians who need to cross the road… So.. we know that people drink, that it is an unavoidable social phenomenon, and that drinking can be dangerous, so you install safety features to help protect drinkers who are making their way home at night.

    Of course one is responsible for the amount one drinks and the consequences that follow, but then that means that you are blaming the deaths of these three students as entirely their own fault, and surely the arguments for how wrong that is doesn’t need to be hammered out.

    To blame friends for not walking their drunk friends back also makes no sense.. Friends should take care of their friends yes, but the Council is also there to protect the community, so instead of shifting the blame around, perhaps the police/Council could simply accept the fact that safety features installed along the river may prevent further deaths.

    To approach the installation of safety features from a heartless perspective, it would still be easy to conclude that they should just be installed, since clearly deaths or missing persons in Durham snap up major amounts of resources from the police, and the investment needed to install these safety features surely pales in comparison. So installing them would potentially save the police a lot of money and resources in the long run.

    Of course it’s great that there are student campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers of excessive drinking, but it is never a problem that will be eradicated, obviously, so measures might as well be taken to prevent the occasional student from dying, since the occasional death is also the occasional unnecessary death.

    Also, the fact that the student union is investing resources to raise awareness against excessive drinking, and that the police’s comments of ‘don’t drink so much’ and so on are directed at ‘students’, there is an implicit assumption that the university environment is to blame for the drinking culture that leads to excessive drinking.

    Of course the university environment exacerbates the situation, if only because you have a lot of young people who may not always have work everyday of the week, and so don’t bother to limit their drinking to weekends.

    But British drinking culture is notorious, and to expect students at Durham to be exempt from the influences of this drinking culture is idealistic and unrealistic. As in, obviously, the drinking culture that leads to excessive drinking and the subsequent deaths at Durham, is part of a wider cultural and national picture, and to think that student campaigns at Durham are responsible for and can remedy this to the point where safety features along the riverside will not be needed, is just.. baffling.

    Using the word ‘babysit’ also implies that it is only students who need protecting from their own drinking, but students are not the only ones who abuse alcohol in this town, just because it happens that three students have died, doesn’t mean that the drinking problem is limited to the student population.
    If the police has a problem with ‘babysitting’ students who drink, would they also have a problem ‘babysitting’ the general residential population in Durham who drink? In which case, that would be a bigger issue of how much responsibility the police force have to protect the community, and not whether the police have a responsibility to protect students specifically.

    Surely the deaths of the students simply highlights a gap in the safety measures along the riverside that benefit the whole of the community at Durham who drinks. To insist that students don’t drink excessively is still to miss the point, since students are not the only ones who drinks excessively in Durham. Does someone else who isn’t a student need to die before safety features can be installed?

    • Yes, there are safety features, but there are also rules, which if you don’t adhere, you will cause danger to yourself & others. For example, don’t drink & drive (although it might be easier than walking home or getting a cab). Don’t drive the wrong way down a one-way street (although it might be quicker to get home that way).


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