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Highcliffe Sports and Social Club’s licence reviewed by BCP Council following Dorset Police reports of fights and poor management

BRAWLS at a Highcliffe social club where police say there is a “general lack of management” have sparked a review of the premises’ licence.

Dorset Police told BCP Council’s licensing sub-committee there had been a string of incidents at Highcliffe Sports & Social Club on Lymington Road, the first of which was a serious assault back in December 2022.

Following the incident, which involved several males seen on CCTV attacking a man even as he lay unconscious on the floor, bar manager Mary White refused to support a police investigation.

Highcliffe Sports and Social Club (photo: Google)
Highcliffe Sports and Social Club (photo: Google)

A subsequent visit a few days later revealed a “general lack of management” at the premises, police said in a report to the committee, and a licensing officer also in attendance flagged concerns over non-members being allowed in.

In March last year, the council’s environmental health team received complaints over noise coming from the club in the early hours of Sunday 11th March – outside of permitted opening times.

“Management failed to engage with officers and accept responsibility for the shortfalls, instead attributing responsibility to the member who had booked the club for a function,” said the police report.

“Officers felt that there remained a distinct lack of control and oversight at the club.”

Violence again erupted at the club in May last year when a mass brawl kicked off during a christening celebration, during which customers were forced to intervene to restore order.

And in August 2023 police were called to reports of an aggressive member – said to also be one of the site’s managers – abusing and threatening staff when they refused to serve him, and not leaving when asked. The onsite manager was said to have refused to cooperate with officers afterwards.

Louise Busfield, Dorset Police licensing officer, told the committee these incidents “demonstrated the lack of a duty of care by staff towards customers”.

“It undermines the role that this premises wants to play within the community, and it’s disappointing that the operators declined to support the police with any investigations to bring offenders to justice,” she said.

The club, which operates under a licence that does not allow admittance of the general public aside from guests of members, was said to be “consistently opening and advertising” events like wrestling nights to non-members.

Ms Busfield said this was despite “verbal and written advice” around the need for a temporary events licence.

Representing the club, Bill Donne, of Silver Fox Licensing Consultants, claimed Dorset Police’s application for a review had been “somewhat premature”.

“The police have expressed a situation of no-confidence in the management of the premises, which we feel is grossly unfair,” he told the meeting.

“Yes there was a very nasty incident in December 2022, and yes my client was reluctant to make a formal statement; she had had a baby just a few weeks before, which added to how vulnerable she felt.

“Some eight months later there was another incident, which they managed to quell. They did contact the police this time, and they did provide CCTV footage, which demonstrates they did learn from the original incident.”

Mr Donne said staff at the club had recently undergone a “host of training” in fire safety and first aid, and that Ms White had since passed her APLH (award for personal licence holders) exams.

“All of the policies and procedures have been reviewed and brought up to date, and they have recently engaged with the local pubwatch scheme,” he continued.

“The front-door entry system has been fixed, meaning now only members can get access to the premises. We do accept that for many months this was not working properly.”

Mr Donne said while there were previously no limitations on the number of guests that could be signed into the premises by the club’s 700 members, this had now changed. “They’ve tightened that up,” he explained.

Accepting the police review had “prompted” the improvements, Mr Donne added: “You may ask, why does it have to come to a review for things to happen? But very often that is the case.”

The meeting heard that the committee had received more than 30 letters in support of the club.

The venue must now abide by additional licence conditions, proposed by Dorset Police and agreed by the committee.

These include requirements for one dedicated staff member for each room that is being used for licensable activities, a secure and auditable signing method for members and bona fide guests to enter the premises, and CCTV coverage for all licensed areas.

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