Warrington publicans criticise 'back door' EMRO moves

By Ellie Bothwell

- Last updated on GMT

Licensee Neil Sparkes: 'They were refused an EMRO, so they're trying to bring it in through the back door'
Licensee Neil Sparkes: 'They were refused an EMRO, so they're trying to bring it in through the back door'
Warrington licensees have accused council and police officers of attempting to bring in an early morning restriction order (EMRO) “through the back door”, after the measure was rejected last year.

Late-night operators in the Cheshire town have hit out at the “threatening” and “underhand” behaviour of officers, after they arranged meetings with each publican to persuade them to close earlier.

Neil Sparkes, who operates five venues in the north-west including Voodoo Lounge, reduced his hours by way of minor variation in March this year, after he claimed police officers told him an EMRO was a ‘done deal’.

He successfully extended his hours back to 5.45am at a hearing last week, and said a recording he made of the “threatening” meeting with the authorities was a key reason why it was granted.

'I'll keep fighting tooth and nail'

The recording, which was transcribed by the council, reveals superintendent Martin Cleworth stating: “I think round about 3am cut off for the town centre is what I want. Whether I’ll ever get that time will tell but I’m going to keep fighting tooth and nail till I get close to it.”

Peter Astley, Warrington Borough Council’s assistant director for regulation and public protection, later added: “The dregs, the shit, will go because we’ll really turn the screw until they get the message.”

"They were refused an EMRO, so they're trying to bring it in through the back door," Sparkes said.

Licensing consultant Paul Douglas, who acted on behalf of Voodoo, said: “The police were made to look very foolish. The actions of Astley — who didn’t even turn up to the hearing — completely undermined his department, which is generally professional and courteous.”

Jon Barry, who runs Reef, which opens until 6am, said he is writing to the Independent Police Complaints Commission after officers twice called for a review of his licence, “for no reason”.

'Extremely underhand'

“Some of the things they said to us were extremely underhand. They came up with 13 incidents, and only one had occurred inside the venue,” he said. “It was all to do with them deciding they want the town to close earlier whether we like it or not.”

Astley told the PMA​: “We remain committed to our vision and we will continue to hold fruitful discussions with all interested parties on how we can achieve this. I​n fact, we believe that we would be remiss of us not to do so and this is what our residents would expect and we encourage the trade to join us in this process."

A Cheshire Police spokeswoman said: “The focus was on trying to develop a shared vision of a safer town centre, to attract a more diverse customer base within the night-time economy rather than rely on business models built around vertical drinking.”

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