A string of Newcastle city centre bars have had their licence suspended after we applied for it to be reviewed following reports staff were taking drugs on the premises.
Earlier this year, we requested that Newcastle City Council review the licence of the Apartment Group who manage bars including House of Smith, Madame Koo and Floritas.
At the end of 2017 the bars were issued with Closure Orders after it emerged staff and promoters were involved in the supply of Class A drugs across the city.
That investigation resulted in the premises being shut over the busy Christmas period and the conviction of a number of drug dealers at Newcastle Crown Court last year as part of Operation Doncaster.
Following the Closure Orders, the licence held by Apartment Group was reviewed by Newcastle City Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee.
The bars kept their licence after they presented evidence that they were working with police and partners to put preventative measures in place.
But in February this year, we requested that Newcastle City Council Licensing Sub-Committee revoke the licence held by Apartment Group – after reports of further drug use at House of Smith.
In the review application submitted to Newcastle City Council, we referred to incidents of drug use at the premises including a report that a staff member was involved in the supply of drugs.
The staff member was investigated and later received a caution.
We also expressed concern about the display of a lewd and sexualised promotional sign on one of the bar premises during Fresher’s Week at the beginning of the academic year.
Last week a review hearing was held by Newcastle City Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee with submissions made by Northumbria Police, Public Health, the Licensing Authority and Apartment Group.
Today the Licensing Sub-Committee announced its decision to suspend the licence held by the Apartment Group for a period of three months, the maximum period the committee could impose.
They also imposed further conditions on the licence for when the bars do re-open, including extra security staff, more thorough monitoring of CCTV during peak operating hours and a condition preventing staff from socialising at the venues.
Newcastle city centre Chief Inspector, Steve Wykes, said public safety is always our top priority and the decision to ask for the licence to be revoked was not taken lightly.
He said: “I hope the review action of the Force and the decision of the Licensing Sub-Committee today sends a strong warning to other licensees across Newcastle city centre and the wider Force area.
“In my view it is important to acknowledge that this review is part of a series of events involving the Apartment Group venues on Collingwood Street.
“This began with Operation Doncaster which initiated a review of the licence in 2017 before the associated criminal investigation resulted in jail terms for a number of staff members last year.
“Following the conclusion of that investigation, Apartment Group assured police, the other Responsible Authorities and the Licensing Sub-Committee that measures had been put in place to ensure the welfare of their customers.
“So it was particularly disappointing when we became aware of further drug use on the premises, especially as it was by staff.
“Given the previous serious incidents and history of these bars, when we became aware of the recent incidents of drug use by staff and inappropriate promotional material, we felt there was no other option but to request that the Licensing Sub-Committee revoke their licence.
“We respect the decision of the Licensing Sub-Committee and welcome the decision to suspend the licence for the maximum of three months while also imposing further conditions on the licence for when the bars do re-open. We hope this will act as a deterrent going forward.
“We have a fantastic relationship with businesses across Newcastle city centre and will continue to work with licensees, including the Apartment Group, to safeguard those who enjoy the night-time economy.”
Anyone who wants to report drug use, or drug dealing, is encouraged to do so by reporting it online at the ‘Tell Us Something’ pages of the Northumbria Police website or by calling 101.