Whitchurch pub stripped of licence over Covid breaches – but landlords lodge appeal

The landlords of a pub stripped of its alcohol licence over Covid rule breaches have lodged an appeal against the decision.

The Wheatsheaf in Whitchurch. Pic: Google
The Wheatsheaf in Whitchurch. Pic: Google

David and Maureen Wiles, who run the Wheatsheaf in Whitchurch, say Shropshire Council’s revocation of the premises licence was unfair and have drafted in a specialist lawyer to fight it.

A licensing sub-committee hearing was held behind closed doors last month at the request of West Mercia Police, following a series of incidents earlier this year in which people were found drinking inside the premises while the country was in lockdown.

The force argued the incidents showed the license holders were failing to adhere to the licensing objectives of ‘prevention of crime and disorder’ and ‘public safety’.

The council has now issued its decision in a report on the hearing, saying the panel had serious concerns about the management of the pub which warranted revoking the premises licence.

On January 18 officers found Mr and Mrs Wiles and two other people drinking in the bar, and Mrs Wiles was fined along with the two members of the public.

Council CCTV showed the people had been inside the pub for around three-and-a-half hours, despite Mr Wiles’ claims that they had only been there for half an hour.

Three days later, on January 21, police were called to reports that two men from different households were inside the pub drinking beer. CCTV showed them unlocking and entering the pub at 6.30pm, later letting another man in, and all three leaving at around 10.20pm.

The following day, during routine Covid patrols, officers found two men in the pub drinking alcohol – the same two who had been fined on January 18.

Police also visited the premises in response to two earlier incidents of people being seen inside during the first lockdown in March and April 2020, but the report says the panel was satisfied with the explanation given by Mr and Mrs Wiles in relation to the incidents.

The panel further heard that a member of the public had contacted the council’s licensing department in October 2020 – when pubs were permitted to be open with safety measures in place – raising concerns that they had not been required to provide their details for contact tracing and had been served at the bar.

The report says Mr Wiles had previously been the Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) but the DPS and premises licence were varied on October 6 to Mrs Wiles, following the surrender of the licence by the previous holder.

It adds: “The sub-committee noted that the variation had occurred following intervention by West Mercia Police and their concerns as to the suitability of David Wiles to continue to be the DPS.”

Officers told the hearing, on March 23, that had Mr Wiles applied to have the premises licence transferred to him, police would have objected “on the grounds that he was not suitable to hold such a licence”, the report says.

Mr and Mrs Wiles attended the hearing via video link and also made a written submission.

The report says the panel had a number of concerns, in particular the “clear” Covid regulation breaches, the pub’s CCTV not working and the fact Mr Wiles “appeared to retain substantial control over the premises despite no longer being DPS”.

Further concerns were raised about the landlords letting “two individuals who are not employees at the premises” run the pub while they were away in North Wales, with no way of monitoring what was going on.

The report adds that “discrepancies in the submissions made by the premises licence holder… called into question the credibility of their submissions”.

It concludes: “The sub-committee found that the above actions have significantly undermined the licensing objections of the prevention of crime and disorder and public safety.

“The sub-committee found that Maureen Wiles had failed in her duties and responsibilities as premises license holder and DPS which calls into question her regard for her responsibilities under both the Licensing Act 2003 and the coronavirus regulations.”

'Committed'

Other possible actions including suspending the licence were ruled out and the panel concluded that “revoking the premises licence was the only appropriate and proportionate response”.

Mr Wiles said an appeal had been lodged at Stafford Magistrates’ Court.

He said: “The committee decision was based on two points.

“One was a video taken by a customer which he claims was taken at 6pm in October. He claimed we had no Covid sign-in, and that he was served at the bar.

“However the video clearly shows Covid signs, pens, and importantly the video, taken on a phone, shows very bright sunlight, hence it cannot have been 6pm in October.

“The second occasion was when two staff were in for valid reasons but stayed a little longer than they could have.

“We have instructed a specialist lawyer and are appealing.”

Mr Wiles added that he and Mrs Wiles planned to leave the pub later this year in any event, and were appealing “as a matter of principle”.

The court said a hearing date would be set in due course.

Shropshire Council confirmed the pub could continue to operate as normal until the conclusion of the appeal.

Frances Darling, Shropshire Council’s head of trading standards and licensing, said: “The council’s licensing sub-committee supports the hospitality trade, and will always seek to work with licensees to ensure that licensed premises are being operated in a safe and legal manner.

“We are particularly aware of the need to protect public safety at this difficult time, in light of the current public health crisis arising from coronavirus.

“On the basis of the evidence provided, the committee took the decision to revoke the pub’s licence due to Covid-19-secure-related breaches.

“Shropshire Council is committed to keeping everyone safe, and a decision to revoke licences is one that will never be taken lightly.”

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