THE three North-East Police and Crime Commissioners have taken the unusual step of writing an open letter to the Government criticising the decision to not to go ahead with minimum pricing for alcohol.

In the strongly worded letter - which was published in The Times - Ron Hogg, Barry Coppinger and Vera Baird, the Police and Crime Commissioners for Durham, Cleveland and Northumbria said the Government had "missed a real opportunity" to reduce the harm caused by excessive alcohol consumption.

The three said they were "gravely concerned" that the Government had failed to honour its commitment to introduce a minimum price for alcohol.

"We believe this failure is a big step backwards in our collective attempts to reduce crime," the commissioners said.

They said the link between cheap alcohol and crime and disorder in the region is "undeniable" with the bill for handling an estimated 213,800 alcohol-related crimes totalling more than 316m in 2010-11.

The commissioners also pointed out that more than 80 per cent of police officers in the North-East have been subjected to an alcohol-related assault during their career, with one in five being assaulted six or more times.

The letter added: "Minimum unit pricing is needed, it is wanted and it worksin parts of Canada a 10 per cent increase in the minimum price resulted a 32 per cent fall in wholly alcohol-related deaths."

The trio said the Governments alternative proposal to ban selling alcohol below cost price "will have very little impact. It will affect less than one per cent of products sold in shops and off-licences".

Mr Hogg told The Northern Echo: "We need to try minimum pricing to see what the impact is. We are trying to support a measure we believe will have a positive impact and all the Government seems to be interested in is reducing our budget."

He said it was "astonishing" that the Government had ignored the advice of Balance, the North-Easts alcohol control office, which strongly backed minimum pricing.

Mr Coppinger added: "Minimum pricing could do the same for alcohol that the ban on smoking in public places did for tobacco but we wont know unless we have tried."