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Carnage UK: The company cynically turning student binge drinking into big business


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Carnage UK: The company cynically turning student binge drinking into big business


By Richard Pendlebury

Last updated at 12:17 AM on 12th November 2008




They are, we are supposed to believe, the brightest and the best.

But 'I love dog porn' and ' hooker' are among the least crude slogans scrawled on the clothes and flesh of several hundred female undergraduates gathered in Prince of Wales Road, Norwich.

Other graffiti is much more explicit. One pretty girl, slumped on a bench in drink-sodden incoherence, has cartoon male genitalia daubed in marker pen on her goose-pimpled breasts.


article-1084800-02700B53000005DC-602_468x311.jpg Students dressed up and scribbled profanities across their bodies as part of a pub crawl which saw 1,500 students descend on the streets of Norwich (obscene words have been edited out because they are so offensive)


Someone has also written 'slut' on her arm. It is unclear whether or not she is aware of the fact. But much of tonight has become unclear to many of those taking part. After all, they have been encouraged to drink for hours.

An intoxicated young woman in hot pants is bending over to retch and simultaneously be groped by a male undergraduate, who she may well not know. Others are simply in a state of alcoholic collapse. Police, stewards and a medical team lurk nearby.

A cold Monday night in November would normally see central Norwich all but deserted.

But Carnage UK is in town. And as many as 2,000 local students, mostly teenagers, are taking part in what the 'UK's number one student event promoter' has billed as a 'Dirty Porn Star' fancy dress party.

For £10 each, the undergraduates are given a souvenir T-shirt and exclusive entry to six city centre nightspots. Each venue is printed on the T-shirts and is supposed to be ticked off with marker pens as the evening progresses.


article-1084800-026F5652000005DC-238_468x638.jpg These two girls made sure they had a camera on hand to capture the night's raucous events

The garments also bear printed challenges for the wearers to perform. These include 'dares' of a titillating nature, such as securing a piece of underwear from the opposite sex. Brideshead Revisited it ain't.

Superficially, Carnage UK is a glorified pub crawl, with added crudity. But slick internet marketing has seen it become market leader in a multi-million-pound business. Many consider the events organised by Carnage UK and its rivals to be the cynical commercialisation of our youth binge-drinking problem.

Paul Bahia, the founder of Varsity Leisure Group Ltd, which runs the provocatively titled Carnage UK events, denies being part of the problem.

'We are not irresponsible or promoting binge drinking,' he says. 'Our events are heavily focused on group identity and social and ethnic cohesion.'


article-1084800-026F517F000005DC-469_468x286.jpg Bottoms up: Mooning on a Monday night

Bahia is the smooth-talking, 28-year-old university graduate son of an insurance executive and midwife. He was raised in the stockbroker belt village of Gerrards Cross in Buckinghamshire and, until recently, he says, still lived at home with his parents in their £800,000 house.

After graduating from Birmingham University with a modern languages degree, he worked in the print industry. Then he got the idea of Carnage UK.

It was 'trialled' in Liverpool five years ago and has since been rolled out in almost every British university town or city.

Since the Christmas term began in September, Carnage UK has put on 34 different Dirty Porn events, attracting as many as 2,500 students each. And the students seem to approve.


article-1084800-026F2C8C000005DC-968_468x286.jpg Police and security were on hand to ensure the students didn't get too out of control


article-1084800-026F51E0000005DC-837_468x762.jpg Two girls dressed as bunnies in stockings and fishnet tights for the porn star-themed night


One, who gave her name as Rachel, denied it gives undergraduates a bad name. She said: 'I don't care what other people think. Students drink - no one will be surprised about that. The night was a brilliant way to meet people and was really good fun because of the activities and costumes.'

Meanwhile, Stuart Marrison, 20, said: 'It's been a right laugh and I am quite drunk. Yes, I would say it encourages binge drinking, but not in a bad way. We haven't caused anyone any problems and I've enjoyed some of the outfits the girls have been wearing.'

And it is clearly very lucrative for Bahia. As well as the T- shirt revenue, his company gets ' management fees' from the bars which play host to his revellers.


article-1084800-026F513F000005DC-252_468x662.jpg Carnage pub crawl punters hit the streets - one dare is to 'secure a piece of underwear from the opposite sex'

Carnage UK's autumn offensive has attracted flak from local authorities.

Last month's scheduled event in Blackpool was called off after police and council objections. Carnage UK then went on the attack and described the council as 'bullies'.

But Swansea found out what could happen one Sunday evening last month, when 1,700 Carnage UK students descended on the city. Violence broke out and eight people were arrested.

Some events run far more smoothly. But critics would say that's because Carnage UK visits only once a term.

An event last month in Stirling was opposed by the university's Students' Association. It said of the Carnage UK website: 'It says: "Stay safe and know your limits." But just below it has videos from (events at) Middlesbrough and Newcastle and ... it's obvious they are not promoting responsible drinking at all.'



article-1084800-026F2CA4000005DC-881_468x307.jpg A reveller takes a break during the event



article-1084800-026E9D67000005DC-420_468x286.jpg A cheeky reveller enjoys the cool, crisp air


What then of the university unions, traditional bastions of heavy student drinking? The National Union of Students has called for a ban on events such as Carnage UK. But Bahia calls many of the university unions 'hypocrites' and points out a number of 'drink the bar dry' nights that they run, selling discounted alcohol.

Bournemouth offers double vodka Red Bulls at £2 each, Coventry union promotes 'Skint' on Tuesdays, which lures students with 'all you can drink for £5', while York has a 'trebles for singles' spirits promotion. Bahia says: 'Can I make one thing crystal clear - there are no inclusive drinks in our deal and if one of the venues already has a drink discount on offer, then we ask them to remove it for the night we are there.'

The most recent Norwich event passed off relatively peacefully. There was a brief scuffle, drunken tears and a few people collapsed under the influence.

'There were a lot of 18-year-olds who could not handle the booze,' said an observer.

Enlarge article-1084800-026F517B000005DC-616_468x348.jpg Pub crawl revellers having fun



article-1084800-02700B84000005DC-689_468x286.jpg One of the student revellers with obscenities scrawled across his T-shirt (offensive words have been edited out)

One fallen drinker was shielded from a photographer by a number of the 80 or so Carnage stewards on duty. The photographer was informed: 'We have been told to get in your way.'

It's the turn of Guildford and Portsmouth next, then Bolton next week.

In Greater Manchester, local police have expressed their concern at Carnage UK's imminent arrival. 'This whole event appears to be a really irresponsible idea - a company-directly encouraging a night of binge drinking,' said Superintendent David Flitcroft. 'We know that type of drinking leads to disorder.'

It is also ruinous to health. And when you sober up, the reality is simply demeaning, as these photographs show.


Enlarge article-1084800-026F5208000005DC-825_468x286.jpg Dressed in skintight leggings and hairbands the students get into the swing of things

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Depends what you mean. There wasn't anything like Carnage or fancy dress parties and you wouldn't see as many people in town. But that's because town's usually dead (especially during the week). They're more likely to get drunk at a friend's house/ outside.


I think it's more a question of how people behave when they're drunk. There is certain behaviour that seems to be virtually unique to Britain.

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Fair enough. I'm not that bothered as long as it's not my friends, who behave like that. I usually have better nights out in Britain anyway.


Yes, well people should be able to have a good time without getting totally plastered, acting like louts, and bothering other people with their lewd behaviour.

Nobody's saying people shouldn't have a drink if they want to, just that they should be able to drink responsibly and know their own limits.

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