Booze offenders stung by instant fines

As if a sore head wasn't enough, dozens of Wellington revellers woke with $250 holes in their pockets on the first weekend of booze tickets, dished out under new alcohol laws.

On one of the city's busiest Friday nights of the year, police and bar owners reported a smooth changeover to the new laws - but several partygoers were left with something they could not sleep off.

Police handed out 76 boozing tickets on Friday and Saturday nights, which carry fines of between $250 to $2000 for behaviour that falls foul of new liquor laws.

The infringement notices can be given to people caught drinking in public in liquor ban areas - even if they are inside parked cars - and to patrons drunk enough or young enough to be ejected from a bar.

The changes, which came into effect from Wednesday, also mean bars are not allowed to stay open beyond 4am.

Most of the tickets were for breaching the liquor ban, Inspector Terry van Dillen said.

Forty-five people received a warning ticket, while another 31 were given a $250 fine.

One drinker was found breaking two of the new laws, so had $500 to pay.

Mr van Dillen said that on a first appraisal, it looked as if the new laws would reduce alcohol-related harm.

Bars were closed by 4am on both nights, and police made no arrests between 4am and 6am, a time that typically used to be busy.

"It was just an incredible sight to see - the city, by 4.45am, was basically empty," he said.

"A number of people were leaving bars a little bit earlier and going to get food . . . we were very pleased with how it went, and very pleased with how the [bars] dealt with everything."

Jason Deane, director of Trinity Group, which owns several inner-city bars, said staff had worked well with police. He applauded the new boozing tickets, saying there needed to be a clear message to underage drinkers that there were consequences for lying to get into pubs.

"To us it's an epidemic - Kiwis will go out of their way and use all the ingenuity they can to get into bars. These instant infringements will make a huge difference."

Police national manager of alcohol harm prevention, Inspector Ben Offner, said there were fewer calls made to police in Wellington and Auckland than in the previous two weeks.

"Our staff said bars were really busy, but at 4am everyone jumped into taxis and went home. It's too early to know for sure, but this was a first indication that reducing trading hours might help to reduce alcohol-related harm."

Wellington Free Ambulance's triage centre was revived, but paramedics were not busy. A spokesman said staff had five patients on Saturday night, one of whom was intoxicated and the others were assaulted. Capital & Coast District Health Board said Saturday night was a regular one.

The Dominion Post