The Inside Story of the Fall-Out from Pub Violence

By Derek Williamson

When the Stanmer Park Tavern was closed by police after a Christmas party brawl in December there were many who feared - and quite a few who hoped - it would never reopen again.

Now, after a shutdown of almost three weeks and a hearing before a licensing panel of Brighton and Hove City Council, the pub is back in business. But it has been forced to operate under far more stringent conditions.

Using powers under the 2003 Licensing Act, the panel of three city councillors ordered that its CCTV system must be upgraded; the pool table removed; a ban on outside advertising of drinks promotions or big screen sports; a strict ‘no glass' policy after 6pm, with plastic receptacles instead; registered door security staff on duty after 6pm on Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights; and the implementation of Sussex Police's Ion Track programme for detecting drugs use on the premises.

Apart from the fight that brought about the closure - widely reported by the local media - the Stanmer has had a troubled history. In a document presented to the hearing, the Sussex Police Licensing Team cited 26 incidents in the past year involving or reported to their colleagues. These included alleged assaults, fights, thefts, refusal to pay and threatening behaviour. They also said they believed a large number of other incidents went unreported.

In the last two years, the Stanmer has had more than six managers. It has something of a reputation - usually amongst people from other parts of the city or locals who rarely, if ever, go in there - as a place only frequented by offensive, violent louts. They call it the "zoo".

It's right that I should declare my personal involvement. The City Council received 18 representations from local residents and I made one of them. Most were generally hostile, for example: "The Spirit Group plc... deliberately encouraged binge drinking by its target customer group"; "A notorious trouble spot... things have gone from bad to worse"; and "We would be better off and safer without it".

As a Stanmer ‘regular' for many years, I was also critical of the way it has been run but I argued that it should keep its premises licence and remain a pub.

Spirit Group's Business Development Manager, Paul Whiteman, said late last month: "We've drawn a line in the sand and we've already started making inroads towards turning it around to the benefit of all the residents of the area."

Coincidentally on the very day the Licensing Panel was deliberating its future existence, the Stanmer had been due to be handed over to new owners, Brightonbased Indigo Leisure, which has eight other pubs in the city. Indigo suspended their takeover because of the new licensing conditions.

Nicknames and bad reputations are hard to live down. If the Stanmer is to fulfil its potential at the heart of Fiveways, the present (and possibly future) owners will have to obey the letter - and the spirit - of the new standards set by the council. At the same time, they clearly need the patronage of many of those who have previously given the pub a wide berth.

Police Closure Oder 23rd December 2006 (pdf) >>

Police application to magistrates for closure extension (pdf)

Magistrates decision 23rd December 2006 (pdf) >>

Council notice of review of premises licence (pdf) >>

Council notice of Licensing Panel Hearing (pdf) >>

Licensing Panel Agenda 10th January 2007 (pdf) >>

Police submission to Licensing Panel (pdf) >>

Previous premises licince (pdf) >>

Map/ Location of pub (pdf) >>

Licensing Panel decision (pdf) >>

© Derek Williamson

Posted: 22nd of May 2007