March 11 2014 Latest news:
Story by: JOHN ELWORTHY , Editor
Wednesday, February 12, 2014
Legal arguments deferred a decision on the future of a March pub after a barrister argued before a licensing hearing they had no right to hear the case.
Matthew Paul, representing Nigel Marsh, landlord of Georges, successfully forced councillors to delay a decision until they had taken legal advice.
Mr Paul’s attack on the licensing committee came at the end of a four hearing at Fenland Hall today.
The committee, chaired by Councillor Kay Mayor, announced a “reserved judgement” which means they have five working days to make their decision.
Mr Paul argued that objections on public safety grounds to amend Mr Marsh’s licence” were entirely frivolous, there is no evidence of that and they should be rejected out of hand”.
He also argued that the case was “repetitious” meaning that complaints from residents opposite Georges about noise and disturbances were similar to those heard in a licensing hearing last October.
He argued that both Government and Fenland Council’s own guidelines meant that that it was premature for them to be brought forward so soon and he claimed to have heard “nothing new” to advance their arguments.
He said there wasn’t even notification to Mr Marsh about the complaints previously heard being discussed when Councillor Kit Owen brought forward an application for the licence to be reviewed.
Mr Paul said the council’s own complaints procedures had not been followed and it was “grossly premature” to hear the arguments again and so soon.
He also said there was no evidence of crime and disorder objectives being breached and that a ‘green light’ for Georges given by police meant it was “irrational” for this to be argued.
He said even on the grounds of public nuisance the three complaints heard at today’s hearing were not sufficient for the committee to take any action.
Cllr Mayor said the panel was in agreement with legal advice from the council’s solicitor that a decision should be deferred for five days.
Councillor Kit Owen, who had instigated the review, complained that people banned under Pubwatch – which Mr Marsh refuses to join- had been allowed to still drink at Georges. Mr Marsh “doesn’t want to abide by rules and regulations”.
Cllr Owen also accused Mr Marsh of not calling to attend incidents at the pub because he feared they would use it against him and down grade the pub’s status from green to amber.
Cllr Owen said a couple living opposite – who had given evidence to the hearing- had been so troubled by noise that both had sought help from their GP and were using medicines to help them sleep.
One resident had earlier shown the committee a recording made on her I pad which alleged live music was being played inside the pub 15 minutes after it was due to have stopped.
Cllr Owen said an on line petition of more than 600 names in support of Georges contained “significant duplications” and that a Facebook campaign had been amended to remove any objections and to make it supportive only of Mr Marsh.
He said another resident had shown evidence of “sufficient and numerous incidents” since October 1 to suggest the only remedy was for Georges to have door staff on music nights from 10pm to 1am.
Licensing officer Kim Winterton intervened at one stage to insist the council had checked the on line petition and found over 500 names were admissible.
One condition dealing with noise abatement and periodic checks on live music noise heard on the streets was agreed during the day but ratification will only come once the outcome of the hearing is decided.
The meeting started late and followed a frenetic 24 hours in which Fenland Council’s objections to the licence were suddenly withdrawn.
A report by Michelle Bishop, a Fenland licensing officer, had been put forward detailing CCTV evidence alleging crime and disorder in and around the pub but was ruled inadmissible by the council’s lawyers..
Ms Bishop had also sought to insist Georges employ door staff after 10pm – a proposal which Mr Marsh said was not needed and would prove prohibitively expensive.
Mr Marsh said before today’s hearing: “Fenland Council evidence has been withdrawn- I have been told that officially”.
He said he could not understand why he had been challenged as extensively particularly as police had recently given the pub a green light, meaning they had no issues in respect of his licence.
Ms Bishop had previously admitted in her report that she was “aware that the police did not seek a review on the basis of crime and disorder following a violent incident at the premises on October 13. Since then there has been a similar incident on December 15.”
Her report though was in error since it was signed and dated December 12 – three days before the alleged incident three days later!
She added that “as a responsible authority I therefore consider it is appropriate for me to make representations in these circumstances”.
Mr Marsh claimed the noise complaints were from a handful of local residents and these could have been dealt with through the council’s own internal complaints procedure.
“It all started because of Councillor Owen jumping the gun and filing a complaint – but at what cost now to both myself and to the council?” said Mr Marsh.
“I am extremely annoyed. This is Fenland Council rightly putting together fair and just policies yet councillors and officials have been allowed to run wild shot through them and breaking them en route. And for what aim?”
He said it did not need a hearing with a panel of five or six councillors to decide the outcome and he was annoyed that he had been forced to hire a barrister to defend him.
“The question must be asked is why officials and councillors insist on treating small businesses like lambs to the slaughter are?” he added.