A Worthing bar visited by a woman who later suffered a fatal accident has been banned from selling alcohol.
Molotov Cocktail and Vodka Bar saw its licence revoked by councillors last night after a marathon four-and-a-half-hour hearing called by Sussex Police (Monday, September 18).
Police claimed ‘multiple breaches’ of the licensing conditions, including failing to provide a duty of care to 45-year-old Gina Pickett, who died seven days after a fall after leaving the Chatsworth Road venue in February, gave them ‘no confidence’ in its management.
Bar co-owner Barry Wells insisted the venue was well-run, despite incidents of highly-intoxicated customers, ‘consistently high’ readings of cocaine throughout the premises and poor record-keeping.
But Worthing Borough Council’s licensing committee ruled last-minute changes to appoint a new premises supervisor were not enough to save the premises from losing its licence.
Speaking after the meeting, police head of licensing Jean Irving said: “Police are appreciative the committee listened hard to all the evidence, considered their options and took the right decision to ensure public safety in Worthing. It is a good decision for the town.”
Peter Saville, barrister for Sussex Police, explained how the venue had been subject to a licence review in 2013, when it was known as Light Bar.
Problems, he claimed, had worsened since the review, which saw numerous extra conditions attached to the bar’s licence.
The committee viewed CCTV footage of Ms Pickett staggering along Chapel Road, before a shop’s camera captured her disappearing off screen near the underpass.
She was found in the early hours of February 20 unconscious and died in hospital.
Holly Yandall, public health lead for West Sussex County Council, said: “From a public health perspective this is as bad as it gets. Someone has lost their life and this cannot be allowed to happen again.”
Louis French, barrister for Mr Wells and business partner Peter Mott, said the venue could not be blamed for Ms Pickett’s death.
He said the ‘evidence’ was she was refused drink by bar staff early in the evening and remained there to dance.
He said an inquest, which found her severe intoxication had led directly to her death, had also heard evidence of her drinking earlier in the day.
“It is unfair to blame the licence holders as even suggesting there is a degree of negligence on their part,” he said.
“All possibilities are open but in our submission it is not clear cut in this case.”
Mr Wells staunchly defended his staff, who he believed had dealt with Ms Pickett correctly.
He said she spent the night dancing and chatting, despite being refused alcohol earlier in the evening.
Mr Wells denied the club had a drug problem. He indicated a willingness to work with police and that he wanted to rewrite the bar’s licence which had ‘misleading’ conditions.
Mr Saville, however, told the committee no objection had been received to the conditions imposed after the 2013 review.
He argued there was ‘no point’ in the committee imposing additional conditions to deal with the problems, as the management was unable to comply with its existing responsibilities.
Mr French said the case was not one where there was ‘no option’ but to revoke the licence.
He pointed to improvements made in recent weeks, with the appointment of a new premises supervisor, ex-councillor Vino Vijayakumar.
Asked whether the measures were a case of closing the stable door after the horse had bolted, Mr French said: “Our stable door needs adjustments but the horse is still in the stable and the stable can be a very successful stable for all involved.”
Councillors Lionel Harman asked Mr Wells why it had taken an incident like the death of a customer for the owners to ‘wake up’.
Mr Wells replied: “We haven’t just woken up. That is not the case. We have worked hard over four years and we had very few issues. We are a well-run club. It is not run like a backstreet pub.”
Reading the committee’s verdict, licensing chairman Paul High said breaches included not providing CCTV body-worn video footage as per requirements, door staff failing to implement a dispersal policy to ensure customers left safely, staff not being proactive in assisting patrons to safely consume alcohol,failing to provide training records or maintaining an incident refusals register were among its concerns.
“This demonstrates there is poor management of the premises and there is disregard for the current conditions on the licence which compromises both the crime and disorder and public safety licensing objectives.”