KELLY BURNS
Dressed in a pretty green dress, trendy boots and her blonde hair styled in a cute bob, Lauren took a swing from a bottle of cheap wine as she strolled into Havelock North. She was 16, been to a party, and ready for town.
However, police spotted the teen drinking under age and breaching the liquor ban.
First she claimed the Aquila wine ($6.95 at last check) was not hers - then she was sorry and wanted to be taken home to her mum.
"I was just going to hang out with my friends in the village," she explained.
She was lucky to escape an instant fine for under-age drinking, though she was referred to Youth Aid, and warned for breaching the liquor ban.
Her school-aged crew continued the trek to the village, where most were denied entry to bars and milled around until home time.
Lauren was just one of scores of teens descending on Havelock North last Saturday - and extra police officers were on duty targeting liquor ban breaches and disorder.
Havelock North has become the place to be for underage youths who sift through the village - drinking outside when refused entry to bars.
A fortnight ago 200 teenagers converged on the domain and milled through the town centre, after an out-of-control party was halted by police.
The same night a 14-year-old girl was raped in the park, and a Havelock North man died when he was run over by a taxi.
But still they gather - with many parents blindingly unaware of what their teens were really up to.
Kevin, 16, was one of many teens caught breaching the ban, but with a plastic bottle of rum and coke under his arm he tries a new tact.
"Someone just gave it to me and said it was Coke, and I was thirsty," he said.
Not surprisingly police did not believe his line, warned him for drinking in the zone, and took note of his under-age drinking.
Libby, 17, was foul-mouthed and fuming when she was given an instant $200 fine for under-age drinking - and warned for breaching the liquor ban.
Tucked into her jacket were water bottles jammed with alcohol - the liquor ban prohibits any alcohol being consumed or held on the streets.
"Her biggest problem is that she has to go home and tell mum she's got a $200 fine for drinking alcohol," Detective Sergeant Mark Moorhouse says. Moments later, a man arrested barely two weeks ago for breaching the liquor ban, is found downing "fighting cock bourbon" in his car.
He was arrested and taken to the station for breaching the bylaw - and could expect another trip to court.
A drive past the domain saw a group of teens huddled on benches on the bitter autumn night.
Beer bottles were scattered on tables, more lay smashed on the ground, and last week's rape had not deterred girls and guys gathering at the park.
Back in the village, Joseph, 15, was hanging on the street with his mates as he said parties could get out of hand.
"I just like socialising, I've meet like 10 new people tonight. It's cool to cruise around and drink a lot - getting wasted on a Saturday night."
He said he got alcohol from older friends, and family who "think it's all good as long as I don't get into fights or trouble".
Another teen said he had been trying to get into pubs since he was 16, and often got kicked out.
"We all hang out with older groups and when they go to town we try to go too, and if we can't get in we will just hang outside."
It was a observation echoed by police, who also believed text messaging encouraged herds of teenagers to converge.
"When the drinking age was 20 we found 18 and 19-year-olds in bars, but now it has been lowered we are finding 15 and 16-year-olds hanging outside the bars," Mr Moorhouse explained.
Senior Sergeant Stu Fleming said bars tended to be well-managed, with the trouble stirring on the streets - where teenagers not old enough to enter pubs lingered.
While new constables in Flaxmere had freed up resources for police to spend more time in Havelock North - patrols could be called out leaving no presence in the village.
However, four extra police would continue patrols over weekends until Havelock North became safe.
Security patrols also manned the village but were "eyes and ears" rather than active in policing the area.
Hastings mayor Lawrence Yule, who spent the night with police, said the age and diversity of the teenagers milling on the street was surprising.
"They are young, 14, 15, 16, there has to be some parental accountability for it."
It appeared many had come from outside of Havelock North looking for action, in the streets or in carparks.
"Havelock North is a lovely place and like all of us people like to have a good time. But people need to be safe," Mr Yule said.
Residents had complained at the broken glass and chaos in the village over weekends, and bar managers were raising concerns at the unruly nature of night-time Havelock North. Rose and Shamrock manager Dave Thompson said bars had patrons under control but when they left they had to "run the gauntlet' through the masses of teens.
Anti-social behaviour was common and there was a potential for riots as scores of intoxicated 14, 15, 16 year-olds congregated in the village.
"I think they (parents) would be absolutely horrified what their sons and daughters are leaving themselves open to - what could happen to them, assaults, rapes. You have intoxicated adults, mixing with young kids, it is not a good environment for them to be in," Mr Thompson said.
* Senior Sergeant Stu Fleming said there needed to be an amendment to the law allowing youths under 18 to be given instant fines for under-age drinking.
Anyone under 17 caught drinking in a public place or licensed premises had to go through the youth court system - while a 17-year-old could be given an instant infringement.
If they denied the offence a Family Group Conference would take place tying up resources and time.
The law needed to be changed so youths drinking under-age could be instantly fined, following the lines of traffic infringements, he said.