The introduction of 24-hour alcohol licences in notoriously binge-drinking Britain has had mixed results, with little sign of a hoped-for "European cafe-style" attitude to booze, officials said Tuesday.
Drink-fuelled violent crime has increased in the early hours of the morning, although the more flexible hours have eased the rowdiness traditionally stemming from a surge in "last orders" drinking before pubs closed at 11:00 pm.
In an official review of the 24-hour drinking legislation, the government insisted that there were none of the "widespread problems" forecast by critics.
"Whilst crimes involving violence may have reduced over the evening and night-time period, the evidence also points to increases in offence(s)... between 3:00 am and 6:00 am," said culture minister Andy Burnham.
Britain has long struggled with the problem of binge-drinking, which routinely turns town and city centres into virtual no-go areas on Friday and Saturday nights when pubs turf out spectacularly drunk revellers.
New laws came into force in 2005 ending the 11:00 pm fixed closing time, letting pubs set their own hours in what ministers hoped would allow Britons to embrace a more moderate attitude to alcohol common in continental Europe.
But describing the results as "mixed," Burnham said it was "clear that the overall reduction in alcohol-related disorder we wanted to see across the country has not materialised consistently in all areas.
"Whilst there is no clear picture of whether alcohol-related admissions have risen, some hospitals have seen a fall in demand, others have reported an increase," he added.
The minister said the proportion of crimes in the early hours as "unacceptable," and called for tougher enforcement of the Licensing Act including a number of new methods of policing it.
This will include a system of "yellow" and "red" cards for breaches of licence conditions, while a "three strikes" rule for firms who sell booze to under-age drinkers will see them lose their licence after being caught twice.
The maximum fine for failing to obey a police instruction to stop drinking will also be raised from 500 pounds to 2,500 pounds.