Fate of mayor's pub licence hangs in the balance
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The future of whether Wisbech mayor Aigars Balsevics will still be able to run his pub following alleged breaches of Covid-19 regulations remains uncertain.
After numerous adjournments and over five hours of discussion at a hearing today (Monday), it is still unclear whether Cllr Balsevics can continue running The Angel Inn.
The hearing, before Fenland District Council’s licensing committee, discussed whether Cllr Balsevics should have his license removed.
Alleged offences included “hugging, kissing, shaking hands and even mock fighting/wrestling” at the Alexandra Road pub on Christmas Eve.
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David Dadds, representing pub owners Elgoods and Cllr Balsevics, saw calls to adjourn the review dismissed by the committee.
He wanted time for both him and his clients to further discuss CCTV footage of the alleged breaches.
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Trevor Darnes, a senior environmental health officer at Fenland Council, said the CCTV footage obtained by police showed “clear breaches” of the licensing objectives (public safety and prevention of crime and disorder).
Mr Darnes said Cllr Balsevics must have seen people not adhering to Covid rules and that he committed “many breaches himself, such as not washing hands and not wearing a face covering”.
He added: “To put people’s lives at risk is not acceptable and the evidence is clear from the footage.
“People were not social distancing, not wearing face coverings when required and there was no reasonable attempt to ensure customers remained seated while being served at their table.”
Mr Dadds said there were safety measures in place, such as a one-way system, signs, floor stickers and hand sanitiser, and said Mr Darnes had made “wild assumptions” about what breaches Cllr Balsevics may have committed.
He said: “This is Christmas Eve. People will move around and be seated having their food; some people may drink after their food.
“If the officer wants to say these are offences, he should go through the proper process.”
PC Paul Hawkins who had accused Cllr Balsevics of “insulting disregard” to the force’s licensing objectives, said that the councillor was not under caution at the time of their visit.
He had sent questions to Cllr Balsevics to find out what happened on December 24.
PC Justin Bielawski, a member of the Wisbech neighbourhood policing team, said he arrived at 8.56pm and had to wait five minutes for Cllr Balsevics to unlock the front door.
PC Bielawski said he saw customers not wearing face coverings, but quizzed on why police officers left soon after 9pm, he said “other commitments meant we left the pub but didn’t go back in to see if anyone had left”.
Steve Fleming, chief policy and enforcement officer at Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue also attended the pub.
He said more education was needed around the safety of having a locked door with people inside, but added there were other exits available which did not lead to a serious breach of safety.
Brenda Barber, mother of former Wisbech mayor Cllr Steve Tierney, told the hearing she is a customer of the Angel and offered her support for Cllr Balsevics.
She said: “The Angel is like a community hub and I think it would be a tragedy if the premises lost its licence.
“I have always found Aigars to be a conscientious and professional publican.”
Describing the review as “a sledgehammer to crack a nut”, Mr Dadds said that Cllr Balsevics took reasonable steps to ensure public safety but that his client “could have done more”.
Mr Dadds then told the hearing that going forward extra measures would be taken by Cllr Balsevics, such as hiring more staff.
He argued that his licence ought not to be taken away, highlighting the amount of support his client has received.
He said: “There was no private party; the pub was open to the public albeit controlled.
“On this, it should be a suspension but given the premises will not be open for a while, a warning with advice is all that is required.”
A verdict on whether or not Cllr Balsevics’ license will be revoked should be decided in up to five days’ time
Early on there were calls to adjourn the hearing for “at least four weeks” by Mr Dadds; the calls were rejected by the committee chair Cllr Michael Humphreys.
The review was applied for by environmental health officers at Fenland Council, supported by Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue and Public Health.
Police visited the pub on December 24 after receiving an email alleging Cllr Balsevics was hosting a party for a local football club.