St Neots pubs forced to close

TWO St Neots pubs, one of them incorporating a nightclub, have been ordered to close following police investigations into drug dealing, under-age drinking, assaults and other alleged offences – but no one knows for sure when the closures will actually hap

TWO St Neots pubs, one of them incorporating a nightclub, have been ordered to close following police investigations into drug dealing, under-age drinking, assaults and other alleged offences - but no one knows for sure when the closures will actually happen.

Huntingdonshire District Council's licensing panel ordered that The King's Head, in South Street, a former coaching inn that incorporates a night club, should shut for eight weeks from Wednesday, April 4, after police complained of a total of 44 offences, most of dealing class A drugs - cocaine and ecstasy - between July 30 last year and January 13 this year.

Complaints about the Wrestlers Inn, in New Street, which was ordered to close for two weeks, included seven drug-dealing offences and a serious assault.

In addition, the panel ordered that James Lumley, designated premises supervisor (DPS) at the Wrestlers, and his former partner Joanne Hughes cannot be involved in management or employment at either pub.

Ms Hughes's father Will, who was barred as DPS at the King's Head, will take over the Wrestlers when it reopens.

Punch Taverns, which owns both pubs, and the named individuals have 21 days in which to appeal and technically can continue operations until an appeal is determined.

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In reality, the King's Head is likely to continue to sell alcoholic liquor until 1.30am on the Tuesday after Easter, when it will close for eight weeks while the owners refurbish the premises and install a new licensee and security regime.

The short-term future of the Wrestlers was not immediately clear, but it no longer has a DPS - Mr Lumley has left - and can, therefore, not trade in licensed drinks.

When it is open, a personal licence holder must be present at all times and two door supervisors must be in place from 7pm until half an hour after closing time on Fridays, Saturdays and Bank Holidays, the panel ruled.

The panel considered revoking the licences completely, but decided against that, because the police had not specifically asked for it, chairman Councillor John Sadler said. "Our Conclusions are based on a result of poor management practice at all levels. We would like to remind Punch Taverns that the premises licence is in their name and that they have responsibilities," he added.

James Rankin, counsel for Cambridgeshire police, had not pressed for closure of the Wrestlers, because the majority of the criminality had taken place at the King's Head.

The drug deals had been uncovered by teams of three under-cover "test purchase" officers, working alone or in pairs, he said. All the deals had been struck inside the premises for both of which Will Hughes had been DPS.

In addition, on November 25 last year, up to 30 people had been involved in a fight outside the King's Head at 3.53am. One person had been arrested at the time and others later following examination of CCTV footage, Mr Rankin said. There had been complaints, but no hard evidence, of sales of alcoholic drink to minors, he added.

"This presented a sorry picture. The question was what one could do about it. Since these proceedings have commenced there has been a series of protocols put forward for the future by Punch Taverns and Mr Hughes. There is no question that the King's Head must be closed. The question is how long for. We believe that nine weeks would be appropriate."

Mr Rankin said the police were concerned that the "unpleasant elements" from the King's Head would follow Mr Hughes to the "quieter premises" that were Wrestlers during the closure and urged the panel to impose stringent security conditions.

Richard Wormald, counsel for Punch Taverns, said it planned to assign the remaining 18-year term of Mr Hughes's lease to a new company to be established by experienced landlord Marcus Simpson, who would be the new DPS. He came with excellent references and years of experience of turning round difficult late-night premises without a single complaint, Mr Wormald told the panel.

Mr Simpson proposed direct radio links with the police, multi-camera CCTV links, close co-operation with the police and security staff throughout the premises, including toilet attendants.

"In Market Harborough, we search everyone on the door and detain drug-users. In my experience, you create a safe environment for the customers, which leads to a successful business," he said.

Mr Hughes's solicitor, Christopher Grunert, (corr) said there was no suggestion that his client had been complicit in the offences or had profited from them. But he conceded that he had been "too hands-off" at both premises.

"Despite his efforts to run a proper outlet, he has been found short. We agree that the King's Head and Mr Hughes no longer go together."

Mr Hughes told the panel he intended to re-open the kitchen at the Wrestlers to attract a different and older clientele. Zero tolerance of drugs was already in place at both pubs, he added. He conceded that it had been a bad decision to install his daughter to manage the Wrestlers, and she would be leaving.

Councillor Sadler said afterwards: "We took this very seriously. It is something we had to stamp out."

Ch Supt Mick Gipp, in whose name the police sought the licence reviews, added: "We are please with the decision, which supports our drive to make Cambridgeshire, and in particular St Neots, a safer place.

"Drugs are responsible for a great deal of crime and associated disorder. This decision should be seen as a warning to all those in the pub trade that they are responsible for the actions and behaviours on their premises, and their livelihoods are at risk should they not run an orderly house.