THE police were last week accused of trying to “blacken the name” of a Peebles pub landlord who was refused permission to extend his Friday and Saturday opening hours to 2am.
The claim came from leading liquor licensing lawyer Janet Hood as she attempted, unsuccessfully as it turned out, to convince Scottish Borders Licensing Board to give the Friday and Saturday night concession to her client, Roddy Mackay of the Keg Bar.
Aberdeen-based Mrs Hood was responding to a police report which claimed that, in the last 17 months, they had recorded 24 incidents which were directly related to the premises – on the first floor of a three-tenement block with adjacent residential properties.
“The two premises which exceed the Keg Bar for incidents are both nightclub premises,” stated the report. “In effect, therefore, the Keg Bar is the worst public house for related incidents within the entire Scottish Borders region.”
The report claimed 42 per cent of these incidents involved disorder and violence and that most occurred between 1am (the current closing time for the Keg on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights) and 2am, resulting in “signficant disruption to the neighbouring area”.
In a letter to the board, which met in Galashiels on Friday, Inspector John Scott stated: “It is my opinion that the granting of this licence would be inconsistent with the licensing objectives of preventing crime and disorder, securing public safety and preventing public nuisance.”
Mrs Hood had earlier explained that Mr Mackay, who is chairman of the town’s Pubwatch scheme, was attempting, by catering for late-night drinkers, to offer customers in Peebles the same service currently available in Galashiels, Hawick and Kelso.
“He believes that customers in Peebles, the third biggest town in the Borders, should not be disadvantaged in this way,” she added.
Mrs Hood alluded to a recent local newspaper article about the impending arrival of discount pub chain J. D. Wetherspoon at the former Cross Keys site in the town’s Northgate.
Specifically, she quoted Peebles community council chairman David Pye as saying that other licensed establishments would have to “up their game”.
“Mr Mackay is trying to up his game by operating a music and dancing venue and substantial entertainment from 10pm to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays.”
She said Mr Mackay, whose application was supported by a 180-signature petition, would continue his Challenge 25 age policy and would engage stewards if granted the extra hour.
He would also, in conjunction with local taxi firms, operate a “safe home” service for his departing customers.
Mrs Hood took particular issue with the incidents outlined in the police report, revealing she had requested and received details of each from the police information service.
One one occasion, Keg staff had called the police when a fight involving six males broke out; by the time officers arrived the men had cooled down and left the pub.
On another, staff contacted the police when they discovered a bottle of pills which later turned out to be prescription drugs.
Police also received a call from a female complaining her purse had been stolen in the Keg. In fact, the purse had been left on a window ledge in the premises and was safely recovered.
“On some of these occasions, Mr Mackay’s staff did precisely what they should have done and contacted the police.
“But the description of the Keg as the worst pub in the Borders is harsh ... and I am concerned the police have put forward these trivial incidents in an attempt to blacken the name of Mr Mackay.
“If the police are so concerned about incidents relating to the Keg they would have sought a review of the premises licence. It is very sad that licensees should be discouraged from contacting the police when they have problems and then have these cited as evidence against them.”
Earlier, Mrs Hood explained that Mr Mackay had invested £10,000 in a state-of-the-art music system with an output which would not exceed 85 decibels and that an area of the pub, which normally had tables and chairs, could be cleared for a dance floor. For disco nights and functions, the maximum capacity was 120.
But Inspector Scott insisted there was “considerable trouble” outside the Keg, according to the observational evidence of serving officers, with youths gathering and anti-social behaviour spilling onto the roadway.
“A nightclub needs control outwith the premises ... yes, we encourage licensees to contact the police, but it’s apparent Mr Mackay and his staff look to the police to act as stewards,” said Inspector Scott. “In my view, the premises are not always operated with the most robust management.”
Councillor Willie Archibald (Tweeddale West) said the last time he had been in Peebles in the early hours there had been a huge police presence of 12 officers and four vehicles to deal with disorder in the area, near the Keg, around the Mercat Cross.
Noting that objections had been tabled by the town’s community council and neighbouring residents, he added; “This is a residential area of the town centre, not a nightclub off the beaten track. I believe this is not ideal for Mr Mackay’s proposal.”
After the board unanimously refused the Keg’s 2am application, Mr Mackay told TheSouthern: “I am naturally disappointed for myself, but also for the people of Peebles who have been crying out for this.”
Meanwhile, Mr Pye told us that when he said licensed premises would have to “up their game” when Witherspoon opens, he was referring to the level of service offered and not to opening hours.