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Is it simply British to 'get smashed'?

Concern over Britain's culture of binge drinking has been growing, with outraged politicians seeking to roll back serving hours and raise the price of alcohol.

But that vision of a nation of Bordeaux-sipping delicate drinkers never materialized. Instead, critics say later serving hours have further fueled the rise of No-Go zones in British cities on late nights, when roving bands of drunken louts rule the roost.

More and more, those louts are so-called "ladettes," young British women who engage in liquid liberation as they aim to get as drunk as men. Much of Britain is now complaining about scenes like one last Saturday on the fringes of London's Soho district. Around midnight, Vicki Hamilton, a 24-year-old shop clerk and a mess in smeared makeup and towering heels, was hunched over and retching. Her two girlfriends argued next to her, only stopping long enough to hurl curses at the equally drunk packs of red-faced men making jokes at Hamilton's expense.

Foreign tourists and older British couples gave the girls nervous glances as they passed by at a respectful distance.

"If we want to have a good time, that's our business," said Hamilton, who rounded out her night with four pints of alcoholic cider, two shots of sambuca and three glasses of wine.

Nevertheless, under pressure from local police and angry residents, the new government is now looking to give local authorities more power to roll back serving hours and charge late-night establishments for policing costs.

"There is a big discussion now about cultural determinance, about why Britons are like Britons" with drink, said Calum Irving, advocacy director for the responsible drinking organization Our Life. "But that shouldn't mean we just sit back and do nothing about it."

Special correspondent Rebecca Omonira-Oyekanmi contributed to this report.


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