DRUNKEN yobs openly flouted an alcohol ban to drink in Blackburn Cathedral grounds.

Onlookers said that about 40 people swigging lager intimidated passers-by, despite booze being banned from the town centre, leaving cathedral staff to clean up the "squalor".

Police said that Wednesday's incident had been not been reported to them until today but officers immediately began patrolling the cathedral grounds to prevent a repeat.

They said they had begun to target the problem and had arrested one man in relation to it.

Fleming Square hairdresser Jeff Stone said: "They were drunken yobs, ranging from late teens to late 20s. They had their tops off and were openly drinking lager.

"It was just a dreadful sight. They created complete squalor and intimidated people with their very presence."

An alcohol ban has been in place in Blackburn town centre since 2002. Police have the power to confiscate any alcohol from drinkers, who can be arrested if they refuse to hand it over.

Beryl Sutherland, the manager of Cafe Bees on Church Street, said: "It's not the number of people I am worried about, it's the type of people. And I do worry about the security of the town at night."

Canon Chris Chivers said there was a funeral taking place at midday on Wednesday but that the trouble did not affect the service.

He said: "I didn't see them but I saw the mess they had left. There was a lot of litter.

"My concern is that is if we are serious about having a policy that's alcohol-free we need to police that.

"It's not doing us any good, and people get nervous.

"For the past 15 months we have had lots of young people on that grass, and that's good - but I suspect other elements also turn up and abuse it.

"It's frustrating for us because we've got a big exhibition on and it was a complete shambles after this.

"The police do a good job here but this must have been a blip."

Blackburn jeweller Phil Ainsworth, of the town centre marketing committee, said: "I did walk past the cathedral, and I noticed there were a lot of people there.

"There are different gangs in the town centre and it's something that's brought up at meetings. It's not what you want to see in the town centre."

Because of today's strike by the council's street cleaners, cathedral staff were left to pick up the litter.

Blackburn with Darwen Council is in the process of putting in place tougher borough-wide measures against on-street drinking.

Executive member for regeneration Coun Alan Cottam said: "It was unusually nice weather, but it's not acceptable if they are abusing the alcohol-free zone and we do not want members of the public harassed by people who are the worse for wear."

And community safety boss Coun John Slater added: "As a council we take it very seriously if people are intimidated walking through the cathedral grounds."

A 20-year-old man from Darwen was this evening arrested in connection with the incident.

Town Centre Sergeant Dave Clarke said: "We have spoken to Cathedral staff who have confirmed that they were people in the grounds on Wednesday. We have begun to target the problem and have arrested one man in relation to it."

A spokesman for Lancashire police, which has a town centre base across the Boulevard from the Cathedral, added: "Our neighbourhood policing teams carry out regular patrols throughout the town centre and will seize alcohol from anyone found drinking in public.

"We have a dedicated town centre team who are working with the cathedral to investigate this matter.

"Anyone who has information about people drinking in public should contact the police."