Premises licence reviews can be a bumpy ride

By Lisa Sharkey

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Police License

Police version of events can be much more believable to a licensing committee
Police version of events can be much more believable to a licensing committee
Facing a review of your premises licence can be like stepping on to a roller coaster at a theme park — you have that feeling in your stomach that the experience you are about to face may be unpleasant but, as you slowly move up that first hill, you realise that the option of walking away has passed you by.

I have been involved in a number of reviews recently where my clients have had the same feeling. Faced with hundreds of pages of evidence that claim to support the review of their licence, they suddenly wish they could slam on the brakes and take a closer look at what is in front of them. Often, what they find is that the police have been gathering evidence for some time and, on closer inspection, all is not quite as it seems.

I have found this to be especially true over the past two months where one particular case involved the police producing evidence of more than 300 incidents for a premises that had been open for only 18 months. Upon hearing this figure, I took a sharp intake of breath and set about reading the evidence.

What I found is that my perception of the word ‘evidence’ was somewhat different after having read through the reams of paper that had been produced by the police. I’d say 85% of the ‘incidents’ listed either did not directly relate to the premises or involved the premises correctly preventing crimes being committed.

Examples of these so-called incidents include management calling the emergency services where an incident had taken place outside that did not even involve their customers; or doorstaff searching customers upon entry and, quite rightly, reporting findings of illegal substances to the police. 

Responsible practice
While it is easy to assume that common sense will prevail and that a licensing committee would recognise that not all of the incidents recorded are directly related to the premises, there is a certain shock value if there are a high number and, combined with a natural tendency (now enshrined in the guidance) to take police evidence at face value, this can have disastrous consequences.

The issue of whether to report an incident can be a very difficult one to balance. As a licensee, you must report any issues of drug use or disorder to the police. On the other hand, it is unjust to be faced with examples of responsible practice being used to inflate artificially the number of incidents related to your premises in order to support an application for review of your licence.

Surely the public is best served by the police encouraging an operator to report without prejudice if it is not at fault?
Even if an incident does occur at your premises and the police become involved, the chances are that you will have been dealing with the problem into the early hours of the morning. You dutifully assist the police, often requiring attendance at the police station to provide a statement, and you return to your premises bleary-eyed with thoughts of getting home for some well-earned rest. The last thing on your mind will be making a detailed note in your incident log or burning CCTV footage of the incident.

You hear nothing further from the police until a few months down the line when presented with review papers and a list of incidents as long as your arm. One of the incidents is described as extremely serious and it suddenly dawns upon you that you have only a brief record in the incident log and no other evidence.

Suddenly, the lack of any evidence to the contrary can make the police version of events much more believable to a licensing committee and you could be criticised for poor record-keeping.

All too often I hear stories of police officers telling operators that continuing budget cuts mean that they do not have the resources to adequately police the late-night economy. This can often result in officers targeting your premises for review in the hope of achieving a revocation of the licence. Revocations help to ease issues of lacking police resources and the cost of appealing such a decision can run into tens of thousands of pounds — a luxury not available to all licence holders.

While not all reviews brought by police are politically motivated, it is an unfortunate possibility that, if your premises is on a police ‘hitlist’, you may find your responsible policy of reporting incidents used to push you over the edge of that proverbial theme-park ride.

While the ability to step off the roller coaster may have been taken out of your hands, it is important that you ensure you can give the police an equally bumpy ride in the event that the evidence does not quite stack up. Keeping detailed incident logs is essential.

Related topics Licensing law

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