Melrose likened to war zone after annual sevens event

Melrose's Greenyards rugby ground.
Melrose's Greenyards rugby ground.

Drunks and undesirables must be stopped from turning Melrose into a “war zone” during its annual rugby sevens tournament, say town centre residents.

Reports of antisocial behaviour and alcohol-fuelled disruption following last month’s event were shared with the town’s community council last week.

Chris John has lived with his wife Helen at the foot of High Street for 21 years and he says that fans’ behaviour after the day’s games is getting worse every year, having witnessed some defecating and urinating outside his home this time round.

“I would love to say Melrose Sevens is the best in Europe, but I can’t if it continues to be a war zone after 8pm,” he said. “We are in the front trenches. We see it all and time.”

Mr John also claimed around £100 worth of damage was done to his property following last year’s event.

“Over 21 years, I have watched this situation go from reasonable to unreasonable.

“Once upon a time, I would see two policemen on the High Street. Now there are dozens. It’s an observation that it’s going downhill. It’s not a criticism of the police, I fully support them.”

Melrose police officer Calum Wilson confirmed there had been 111 calls in the town over the last six weeks, a figure slightly higher than normal.

There were 21 alcohol seizures on the day, he added.

“They are taking all reasonable steps to stop people getting into a situation where these things happen, but you can’t stop them happening all the time,” he said.

More than 12,000 spectators attended the Greenyards for the 128th playing of Melrose Sevens last month.

The tournament started in 1883 and today yields an economic benefit of between £1.5m and £2m for the region.

Among Mr John’s suggestions for tackling the problems are reducing the hours alcohol is available, currently 10am to midnight in most of the town’s pubs, and asking those supplying it to contribute to an insurance scheme to pay for any damage suffered by residents.

He also asked if the town should look into introducing a by-law stopping alcohol consumption on the streets.

Leaderdale and Melrose councillor David Parker replied; “We did consult on whether the Borders wanted this about six years ago, and the result was a universal no,” he said. “That is something we have not been able to take forward.”

He added: “The club have been very responsible and have reduced the amount of alcohol within the grounds.

“They steward the event very carefully and into the evening. They have been exemplary in policing the consumption of alcohol, but it’s the nature of the event and the crowds.”

Bed-and-breakfast owner Mike Dalgetty added: “Because of the success of the event, there are groups of undesirables that come to the town. They are not at the event or the party in the tent. They just come to cause trouble. It’s a social problem.”

“I think the rugby club understands its responsibility, it’s not their fault.”

Last month, the club were criticised for the disruption and closures of public spaces up to two weeks before the event, and an agreement over increased warning and signage has been met.