A RINGWOOD restaurant which flouted lockdown rules by selling beer to takeaway customers has been allowed to keep its licence to sell alcohol.
India Cottage, which is based in Christchurch Road, was instead issued with a formal warning. It had claimed it would likely close and its staff lose their jobs if New Forest District Council chose to side with a Hampshire Police request to strip it of the drinks licence.
A spokesman for the venue told the A&T owner Shad Mannan and staff were “extremely relieved” and wanted to “express their gratitude” to the district council’s sub-licensing committee.
“Mr Mannan acknowledges he made a serious mistake but has heeded the warnings that he has been given and can give a categorical assurance nothing of a similar nature will happen again.
“He would also like to thank all of the customers who supported him throughout what has been an extremely stressful and difficult period, and now that the restaurant has been able to reopen –albeit with restricted numbers and other precautions in place – looks forward to welcoming them back when they will after all, be able to enjoy a drink with their meals,” the venue added.
India Cottage was hauled in front of the licensing sub-committee at the request of Hampshire police after officers found six patrons there drunk on two evenings in April.
Officers stopped at the premises on the 25th after driving past, and found two men drinking beer while they waited for their takeaway meals to be cooked.
Noting the area was covered by CCTV cameras, the officers watched footage and saw an incident two nights earlier, when four men drank beer while eating a takeaway in the same spot over a period of about two hours.
The incidents not only broke the coronavirus regulations but also India Cottage’s licence – which had been altered in only February and banned customers drinking alcohol if they were not eating meals. Mr Mannan was the venue’s designated premises supervisor.
Appearing before the three-member committee, PC Brian Swallow claimed the venue was guilty of a “continuous and flagrant” rules breach. PC Swallow also criticised NFDC’s licensing department, which did not support the police’s request for the suspension of the venue’s drinks licence.
However, solicitor Philip Day, who represented India Cottage, said: “If you take that [the alcohol licence] away then this is not going to be a viable business. Staff will certainly be at risk of losing their jobs and, with the greatest of respect, that will be a disproportionate response [from the council].”
After the incidents were flagged up, NFDC asked for a prohibition order to stop the venue breaching the regulations – which had been complied with – but declined to seek further action.
Mr Day also mentioned a relevant bill passing through the House of Lords which is expected to soon be ratified. It proposes granting every venue in the UK a licence allowing customers to drink on areas adjacent to their premises to help them get back on track post-lockdown.
Given the context of that, Mr Day suggested the best and most appropriate course of action would be for the sub-committee to hand Mr Mannan a warning so his business, which had been hit hard by the trade it had lost during the pandemic, could get back on its feet.
Agreeing with that course of action, in their decision the sub-committee said it had given “serious consideration” to a temporary and permanent ban of the alcohol licence but was also “mindful” of its previous good history and that no breaches took place after it was served the prohibition notice.
“On this occasion, and taking into consideration all the evidence and circumstances, it was concluded that the proportionate and appropriate step for the promotion of the licensing objectives was to take no formal action,” it said.
“The sub-committee hereby formally warns the premises’ licence holder that there should not be any further breach of the conditions of the licence, the Act, or any other applicable legislation.
“If there is such a breach, this decision and warning is likely to carry significant weight in any subsequent enforcement action and the consideration of whether further steps are appropriate.”