Police face legal challenge over Buckfast anti-crime labels

Buckfast's distributor believes the labels are illegal

The distributors of Buckfast are taking legal action against Strathclyde Police in a bid to stop the force adding its own anti-crime labels to bottles of the tonic wine.

Analysis

If whisky is Scotland's national alcoholic drink, Buckfast must be the most notorious tipple consumed here.

It's produced by Benedictine monks in Devon but is regularly linked to the crime and anti-social behaviour of drunks in Scotland.

In 2010, Strathclyde Police said it had been mentioned in more than 5,000 crime reports in the previous three years.

Buckfast's distributor, J Chandler & Co, says it's not the drink that is irresponsible but those drinkers who consume it to excess.

It argues that "buckie", as it's known, is unfairly stigmatised by politicians and the police.

Ministers from Helen Liddell, when she was Scottish secretary, to the current justice secretary, Kenny MacAskill, have highlighted Buckfast as a problem drink.

Strathclyde Police issues special stickers to some off-licences. These are attached to bottles of Buckfast and some other brands.

The police marks are used to trace bottles used in crime, or found with underage drinkers, back to the stores from which they were bought.

J Chandler & Co says this is hurting its brand and its sales, although Buckfast appears to be bucking economic trends, recording record sales worth more than £39m in 2011/12.

The company is now asking the courts to intervene to stop bottle marking. Buckfast's legal battle with the police promises to be a fascinating case.

J Chandler & Co wants a judge to stop bottle marking because the company says the practice stigmatises the brand.

The firm is due to lodge a case at the court of session on Friday.

Strathclyde Police said it was unable to comment before receiving a court summons.

In 2010, the force said the tonic wine had been mentioned in more than 5,000 crime reports over the previous three years.

It asks some retailers to attach police stickers to bottles of Buckfast and some other alcoholic drinks.

This allows officers to trace bottles associated with crime back to the store from which they were purchased.

However, Buckfast's distributor believes the practice is illegal and discriminates against its brand.

Lawyers for J Chandler & Co will ask a judge to find that Strathclyde Police has unlawfully encouraged retailers to label bottles of Buckfast or withdraw the product from sale.

It is not clear what evidence they will present in court.

If the case is deemed competent by a judge, the police will be summoned to respond.

The force said: "We haven't received any summons yet and as such we are unable to comment."

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