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Gate checks to weed out Toast drunks

SEAMUS BOYER
Last updated 05:00 03/10/2012

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All Toast Martinborough festivalgoers will be screened for signs of pre-loading this year, as part of a police push to stop unruly revellers spoiling the event.

Organisers of the annual wine and food festival have also banned takeaway bottles of wine, with police announcing a beefed-up presence at all venues and insisting that cheaper and "more substantial" food be made available to drinkers.

The changes have come about after last year's event was criticised as the worst in seven years by the officer in charge, who warned that police might need to consider carrying batons to combat unruly drunks.

Grossly intoxicated people - especially young women - threatened to turn the wine lovers' event "feral", Sergeant Kevin Basher said last year.

Though organisers have denied those claims, they have promised this year's event will focus on wine and food, rather than music.

Senior Sergeant Carolyn Watson, officer in charge this year, said festivalgoers arriving by train would be met at Featherston station by police and security guards; those coming by bus or car would be met at the gate.

All would have their bags searched, as well as being individually screened for signs of pre-loading, before being given their wine glasses for the day.

"In the past people were stumbling off the buses, then the most sober of them were collecting the glasses for their mates," she said.

"We'll be checking everyone this year and, if they're drunk, they will be refused entry - it's as simple as that."

An alcohol task force from Wellington will be brought in, as well as extra on-site officers and traffic police.

Drunks would be held to sober up "for a couple of hours" before being let in, Ms Watson said.

"Unfortunately some people have ruined it over the years for the others . . . We want to make sure those people don't have that opportunity."

Tickets go on sale today for the November 18 event, which features 10 vineyards.

The event has been a favourite day out for people around the Wellington region since 1992. The 10,000 tickets are often snapped up within minutes.

Organiser Rachael Fletcher said increased security was not about being heavy-handed.

"It's for the small number who want to pre-load and hop on a bus and then sit and watch one band. That's not what Toast is about."

Police comments about last year's event were off the mark, she said. "I don't believe that was a true representation of the event.

"But what it highlighted to us was that there were some things we could do better."

Festivalgoer Stefan Vluggen welcomed the changes, after complaining that last year's event reminded him of the Wellington sevens - and not in a good way.

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"I'm not a nerdy guy; I like to have fun. But when you feel unsafe and when you feel threatened, that's not fun.

"Getting pissed and having a good time is one thing, but getting pissed and getting aggro is another."

He intended to wait to see if the changes worked before considering whether to return.

Toast chairman Richard Riddiford said pre-loading had been an "issue for some years", but was not confined to Toast.

Some intoxication was inevitable. "If you serve alcohol at an event, then a certain percentage of people will get drunk.

"If you don't believe me, come to my Christmas party."

'I'D PREFER A NICE RESTAURANT'

This year's Toast will be the first Fay Beyer has missed in more than a decade. The Wellington woman has attended nearly every Toast since it began in 1992, often travelling by train with friends.

"Over the years it's been the most fantastic event, it was really quite sophisticated," she said.

"It's only over the last 3 to 4 years that there's been huge big mobs of young people drinking. It seems the thing to do, to go and get pissed."

This year her group had decided not to make the trip, which they had often followed with a game of golf.

"We used to say it was the best thing in Wellington to go to, but not now. I think I'd prefer to go to a nice Wellington restaurant."

- The Dominion Post

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