STUDENTS more than twice the drink drive limit could be turned away from city centre pubs and clubs following a spate of tragic river deaths, safety chiefs announced last night.

Doorstep breathalyser tests are to be piloted at willing bars around Durham City, after three university students died and one was dramatically rescued from the River Wear over the past 15 months.

Anyone turned away – students and locals alike – would be referred to “guardians” trained to help them get home safely.

The uncompromising move, which has been successfully trialled in Birmingham, was part of a raft of changes aimed at securing the safety of drinkers in Durham and around the river late at night announced following a meeting of the City Safety Group tonight (Monday, February 9).

Other moves include:

• A ‘safe haven’ where drunks can get medical aid and sober up;

• A student volunteer-led street angels-style scheme to help revellers in distress;

• Taxi and night bus services to get vulnerable students home;

• A £50,000 safety education campaign;

• Extra training for bar owners and managers; and

• Tough action against pubs running irresponsible drinks offers, such as “all you can drink” promotions.

Further details were also announced of an independent riverside safety review. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa), which will conduct the review, has been briefed on the task, will begin its work in early March and report back within a month.

The sweeping changes in what remains a safe city come after three Durham University students, Sope Peters, Luke Pearce and Euan Coulthard, died in the Wear within 15 months and a fourth student was pulled to safety last month (January) just a week after Euan’s body was found.

Speaking after yesterday's meeting, Terry Collins, chair of the City Safety Group, said: “I am sure this demonstrates the wide range of actions which have been undertaken within just a few days as well as the importance of partnership working in tackling the complex issues which comprise city safety.

“However, it is extremely important to bear in mind that the agencies and organisations involved can work together to implement a whole range of changes and improvements in city safety but none will replace the need for people to take responsibility for how much they drink.”

Carol Feenan, the city centre manager, is taking a major role in the shake-up. She has visited all the area’s pubs and clubs to stress the need to refuse access to people already drunk; and “guardianship” arrangements have been put in place to ensure anyone turned away gets home safely.

Ms Feenan has also turned her office, on Millennium Place, over to become the temporary safe haven, until a permanent location is found.

She has started patrolling the streets at night herself and provided training and equipment to volunteer groups.

More than 200 students have volunteered to be part of the new street angels-style support scheme, which will complement the established churches-led Streetlights initiative.

Drivers for night buses have been interviewed and appointed and the service will start this week; while four local taxi firms have been brought in to get vulnerable students home safely.

A “social norms” campaign, funded with £50,000 from Durham County Council, has begun and focus groups are planned, with a launch expected in the spring.

Last week, Durham City MP Roberta Blackman-Woods called for a review of alcohol licensing policy; while Durham Police chief constable Mike Barton said it would be “ludicrous” to police the riverbank to stop students falling in.

An online petition calling for greater security measures along the riverbanks has attracted more than 15,000 signatures.