Hawke's Bay races 'drunken mayhem'

Tales of drunken and drug-fuelled debauchery at a leading race meeting have been revealed as objectors tried to stop a liquor licence for this year's event.

More than 10,000 people attend the Hawke's Bay Racing Spring Carnival each year, but submissions to a hearing yesterday revealed complaints of a "rampage of carnage".

This included drunken, aggressive youths fighting and vomiting, and scared families watching as drinks were spilt over young children. Other racegoers were seen snorting drugs through rolled-up bank notes.

Police and a liquor inspector said Hawke's Bay Racing Inc had repeatedly failed to comply with its special alcohol licence conditions, despite assurances each year that it would improve.

The complaints fell on deaf ears, however, with the Hastings District Licensing Agency hearing granting a licence for this year's meet on October 1.

The licence is subject to conditions that will be discussed on Monday.

Joseph and Kylie Stafford described arriving at the races last year with their two-year-old twins and friends to find crowds of drunk and aggressive young people like a rampage of carnage.

They told of seeing patrons passed out, vomiting, fighting, swearing and staggering. "I'm no prude ... but this was drunken mayhem," Mr Stafford said.

At one point two young drunk women started "pawing" the twins in their pushchair and spilling alcohol on them. When Mr Stafford moved the women away with his forearm, he was confronted by five aggressive men.

Mr Stafford, a tall man who once played rugby for Marlborough, said he was "bloody scared" of the men's attitude. Helped by bystanders, he got the pushchair to safety.

In the stands, the Staffords found groups of young men hurling cups of alcohol over others and small groups of older racegoers "with fear in their eyes".

Mrs Stafford saw a group of three young men in the stand sniffing something off a compact mirror using a rolled bank note.

The couple said they had attended many race meetings and wine and food festivals, but had never seen such a level of drunkenness before. "There were girls falling over, their dresses up around their ears," Mrs Stafford said.

She said she had felt uneasy about speaking at the hearing "but we've spent the last couple of years reading about teenage deaths and over-consumption of alcohol and I thought, `If something happens to a teenager at the next event and I hadn't said anything, then I'm as bad as anyone else."'

David Smith, who drove past the racecourse that day, saw a young drunk woman vomiting in a gutter, a young man lying unconscious on a verge and a group of males hurling abuse at passersby and police. "It was absolutely disgusting."

A policeman who attended the 2009 and 2010 race meetings witnessed many extremely intoxicated patrons, some of whom were still being served alcohol.

HB Racing general manager Jason Fleming and club chairman Mick Ormond acknowledged the failings of previous years and promised to do better.

An improved alcohol management plan was submitted, the number of security staff would be boosted from 90 to 130, more qualified bar staff would be employed and monitoring of patrons would be improved.

Racing contributed millions to the regional economy, Mr Fleming said. Without the special licence, the event "would be severely compromised and as a result the club compromised".

Upper Hutt alcohol harm reduction officer Shane Benge, who works on the liquor application for the Wellington Cup, said police had never been put in a position where they had had to oppose the application.

Police and the Wellington Racing Club worked together each year to try to minimise problems around alcohol.

NZ Racing Board spokesman John Mitchell said the organisation was aware of what was happening in Hawke's Bay but would not get involved. It was a club's responsibility to make sure it worked with police and liquor-licensing authorities to ensure the appropriate standards were met.

The Dominion Post