Dragon Soop 'linked' to surge in Newcastle city centre youth violence

The warning of a surge in youth violence was made as councillors considered whether to allow Newcastle store News Express to sell alcohol. Credit: LDRS

Newcastle city centre suffered from an “unprecedented surge in youth violence” linked to underage drinking last year, police have said.

Gangs of up to 30 youngsters have been congregating at popular locations like Northumberland Street and Old Eldon Square to drink booze and have subsequently committed “serious assaults”.

According to Northumbria Police documents lodged with the city council, the spike in incidents during 2023 was linked to youths obtaining Dragon Soop – a caffeinated alcoholic drink with an ABV of 7.5%.

The warnings were made as councillors considered on Tuesday (27 February) whether to allow a convenience store on Grainger Street to sell alcohol.

A report from Sgt Emma Dixon, as part of a police objection to News Express’ licence bid, detailed police operations carried out during school holidays throughout 2023 to “target an unprecedented surge in youth violence which police believed was a direct result of underage alcohol consumption and misuse of drugs”.

Operation Magnolia, which also saw officers deployed around the Bigg Market and Clayton Street, uncovered young people buying Dragon Soop from off-licences themselves or using adults to buy it for them.

Sgt Dixon said: “Their behaviour would deteriorate during the evening as they became more intoxicated and more violent incidents were reported by members of the public.”

She confirmed there were “several arrests of young people for serious assaults on members of the public” in the city centre last spring and that “all were drunk at the time and could not remember what they had done until they were shown the CCTV”, though Sgt Dixon added that the operation “has had a positive impact” and resulted in a reduction in anti-social behaviour.

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Jonathan Rodger, representing News Express at a hearing of Newcastle City Council’s licensing sub-committee on Tuesday morning, argued that his client’s shop selling alcohol would have little impact on the drinking problems already experienced around the Bigg Market area.

He said the store’s “exceptionally narrow” request was to sell only wine and spirits between noon and 8pm – with a promise of minimum prices of £10 for a bottle of wine and £15 for spirits, all alcohol being concealed behind the shop’s counter, and customers only being allowed to purchase it with at least £5 of other items excluding cigarettes and vapes.

Mr Rodger called the police’s objections “knee-jerk”, adding: “Very limited product range, not only avoiding the problematic drinks but focusing on the high-quality, low-volume, high-margin.

"Only wines and spirits with a minimum price and minimum volume, avoiding entirely the youth and street drinking market. It is fanciful to think that, under these conditions, my client is going to be a supplier to beggars, addicts, and trouble makers.”

However, police sergeant Julie Cottiss said the measures proposed by News Express were insufficient to assuage the force’s concerns about another source of alcohol in the city centre.

Council licensing boss Jonathan Bryce echoed those fears, saying that granting the application would increase the density of alcohol sales in an area that is already “problematic”.

Crime figures presented to the committee showed that the number of police incidents on Grainger Street jumped from 90 in 2021 and 99 in 2022 up to 163 across 2023, though that was partly attributed to the city centre becoming busier again following the end of Covid lockdown restrictions.

Neeraj Bedi, who runs the nearby Metro Express shop on Grainger Street, told the committee of problems with knife crime, anti-social behaviour, and homelessness.

Mr Bedi admitted that he did sell Dragon Soop at his store, but said he would take it off his shelves if the police asked him to.

He added: “I care about this area and I can see it is progressively getting worse. It is not nice when people come into the area and say it is the Wild West and they are scared to even come into the shop… people hassling them and children telling them to buy alcohol for them, or they are being abused and intimidated.”

A decision on News Express’ licensing application is due to be made in the next five working days.

ITV Tyne Tees has approached Dragon Soop (Corinthian Brands (CBL) Ltd) for comment.