Lee Coles’ eyes well-up when asked about his son, 12, and he begins sobbing.
The 40-year-old is no longer allowed to see him.
“Heart-breaking ain’t the word,” he says, curled up on the pavement of London Road, Gloucester, outside newsagents and off-licence Sedoo’s Stop.
READ MORE: Life on the streets of a Gloucester crime hot-spot
The London Road area in Kingsholm is a known hot-spot for street drinkers and drug-users, who purchase alcohol from the off-licences there and huddle together in the street.
Residents living in the area have suffered with drinkers’ anti-social behaviour, involving swearing, fighting and public urinating.
A public space protection order banning the drinking of alcohol outside was put in place across the city centre and London Road but the drinkers don’t seem to take much notice.
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Ex-convict Lee is one of the alcoholics who frequent the area. He served a jail sentence in 2017 after a prolific slate of shoplifting, notably stealing food, among other more serious offences further in his past.
Lee’s partner died about two months ago, “she’s dead through alcohol addiction and drugs,” he says.
He turned to the bottle when he was 15-years-old after surviving a car accident in which both his parents were killed, he claims.
(Image: Samuel Port)
Ever since, Lee has been suffering with “survivor’s guilt”, PTSD and his mental health is “all over the place”.
When he was a teen, he began drinking, buying small bottles of spirit imported from France by the case load – 24 bottles for £7.
Lee was born in New South Wales, moved to Birmingham when he was 20, spent some time in jail, then met his late girlfriend and they moved to Gloucester.
He now says he drinks about two litres of Captain Morgan’s Rum a day “with a little bit of coca-cola,” he adds with a wry smile, pinching his fingers.
The bearded, long grey-haired man has tanned skin from spending so much time out in the sun but his body is covered in scars and his leg is riddled with ulcers due to drug-use.
When Lee smiles, you can see a number of his teeth have rotted away but that doesn’t stop him smiling, Lee likes to smile. It’s his way of dismissing those people who look at him “like I’m a piece of s*** in a shoe”.
(Image: Samuel Port)
Lee has been sleeping rough behind a church in Gloucester city centre, he was asked to move away recently as drug users were leaving needles there.
He’s a former drug-user himself, he explains that’s why he’s got all the ulcers on his leg after infection spread through the veins running along it.
Another street-drinker in the group is Kev, or ‘Big Kev’ as Lee likes to call them.
Kev, birth name Samantha, is transgender. A 40-year-old woman who desperately wants to become a man but can’t afford the treatment.
Kev, from Gloucester, can barely speak as they’ve been inflicted with a speech impediment since birth. A gambling addiction led them to life on the streets and supported housing, they then became an alcoholic.
Lee said: “Kev’s one of the vulnerable people on the streets. They were sleeping outside a café in the city centre in their sleeping bag and people came out and p***** all over them.
“There’s nobody else who is going to look out for us, so if anybody creates any trouble with my Kev, I’d kill them.
“There is vulnerable people here and I will not deal with that. Other people I am not bothered about, people look down their nose at us and think we’re pieces of s***.”
‘We’re not a plague’
Another street drinker, who wished to remain anonymous agreed.
Another 40-year-old, she describes herself as a “product of the system”, growing up in children’s homes and living a hard life.
She said: “They treat us like a plague, we’re not a plague in the city. It’s upsetting. I know sometimes people have a bit too much and cause problems but sometimes people spoil it for everyone else.
“We’re unfairly demonised because we’ve got nowhere to go.
“During Covid we’ve had to meet up on the street because we couldn’t go to people’s houses, it’s lonely isn’t it?
“We drink and we socialise but we always get scorned!”
The woman is another parent who is no longer allowed to see her children, two boys, 11 and 17. She adds that she suffers from depression.
(Image: Google Maps)
Another street-drinker, a man who looks in 30s and bare chested, said: “People have to go through it to know what it’s like. They assume all junkies and drunks are the same but they ain’t. They tar us all with the same brush.”
The off-licence Lee, Big Kev and group was sitting outside of, called Sedoo’s Stop, was banned from selling single cans in July after concerns it was fuelling street drinking.
Now drinkers would have to pay for four cans minimum or a litre bottle of 7.5 per cent strength cider.
Lee said: “No offence, you can’t pay less than four cans. So what’s going to happen is you’re going to get more f****** spirit drinking or shop lifting to get the drink. That’s all you’re going to get.
“Why pay to price for four cans when you can get a bottle of spirit?”
There is a murmur of agreement from the other street-drinkers grouped around Lee.
“Doesn’t make sense, does it?” said one of them.
We visited a few of the off-license to find out the prices of the cheapest bottles of spirits which could be purchased.
Gloucester City Council statement
A spokesperson for Gloucester City Council said: ‘We’ve been working with local policing teams to address concerns from residents about people drinking in and around London Road.
“In July, changes were made to a local premise licence to prevent the sale of single cans of alcohol and beer, larger and cider over 7.5 per cent alcohol volume. These measures can be reviewed if there are further concerns.
“We are also in the process of reviewing the Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) for this area in relation to anti-social behaviour.
“Our colleagues and partners at Project Solace will continue to offer support to people in the area who need help with housing and alcohol addiction.”
Gloucestershire police’s response
A spokesperson for Gloucestershire police said: “The Neighbourhood Policing team in Gloucester, along with partner agencies from Solace, Gloucester City Council Licensing team and the Constabulary Licensing team, has been visiting shops selling alcohol in this area to engage with the owners. This has been in relation to ensure licensing conditions are being adhered to (this is as part of a normal inspection programme). A number of retail units have had tighter restrictions placed upon them for alcohol sales.”
Inspector Ash Shingler, of Gloucester Neighbourhood Policing team, said: “As part of ongoing community engagement work, officers from the team make regular patrols around the area, as well as patrols with partners in Solace. Part of this work is to form a positive working relationship with the owners and staff of all the businesses.”
The Gloucestershire telephone helpline is open 24 hours a day 365 days a year. It is on 01452 418515
Al-Anon Provides support to anyone whose life is, or has been, affected by someone else’s drinking, regardless of whether that person is still drinking or not.
In Gloucestershire, there are currently local groups in Gloucester, Stroud, and Cheltenham. Please visit the website for more details of the groups.
Telephone: 020 7403 0888
CGL is is a free and confidential drug and alcohol service for adults (including offenders), families, carers and affected others.
They are based at:
- Imperial Chambers, 41-43 Longsmith Street, Gloucester
- Bramery House, Alstone Lane, Cheltenham
- Bankfield House, 13 Wallbridge, Bath Road, Stroud
You can call them on 01452 223014 or email [email protected]
The force spokesperson continued: “There are many complex issues for a number of people living in this area.
“Many require a substantial amount of additional support from all agencies, as they move towards independent living. We want to offer all the assistance we can to help them make that transition smoothly.
“Gloucestershire Constabulary is continually working with key partners such as Solace, supported accommodation providers and Change Grow Live to visit known areas often and provide support to those who need it. This is a key part of the ‘engage, support, enforce’ model.
“Any person who has been the victim of anti-social behaviour or a crime such as the example given, where the person reports being urinated on by a group of people, we would encourage them to report this in the first instance to the police.”
Ward councillor’s statement
Ward councillor Jeremy Hilton (LD, Kingsholm and Wotton) wants the PSPO to be widened to include Alvin Street, Worcester Street and Kingsholm Road as well.
He said: “It is far too early to determine the success of the Sedoo’s licence changes. I wrote in support of the police challenge to the off-licence.
“Both Angela Conder [fellow ward councillor] and myself have met key stakeholders to work on the Kingsholm action plan. I have met Chris Nelson the new Police and Crime Commissioner twice since the elections to discuss appropriate actions to deal with the problem of street drinkers in Kingsholm.”
Read our follow up about the cheapest bottles of spirits which can be purchased in London Road here.
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