Pub owner announces party ban as board considers police complaints

A GALASHIELS publican has banned all 18th birthday parties on his premises following allegations that the police have seen inebriated minors there on several occasions.

Paulo Crolla will give that commitment tomorrow as he seeks to convince Scottish Borders Licensing Board that his bar – H20 in Overhaugh Street – should not be closed down with the loss of 15 full and part-time jobs.

Last month we reported that the police were seeking a review of the licence, citing alleged breaches of the Licensing (Scotland) Act with regard to four of the legislation’s key objectives.

These relate to preventing crime and disorder, preventing public nuisance, securing public safety and protecting children from harm.

The board has thus called a hearing which will take place in Galashiels tomorrow when premises licence holder and designated premises manager Mr Crolla will be legally represented.

If the board, comprising members of Scottish Borders Council, finds that the terms of the premises licence have indeed been breached, it will have four options: to issue a written warning, order a variation of the licence, suspend the licence or, in the worst case scenario, revoke it. The last two courses of action would lead to the closure of the premises.

In a letter to the board, Assistant Chief Constable Iain Livingstone states: “A number of incidents have taken place at the premises over a period of time that give police cause for concern regarding the operation of the premises.

“These relate to the sale of alcohol to persons under the age of 18 years, breaches of the terms of access for young persons and overall poor management and control of the premises.”

ACC Livinstone has submitted a list of alleged incidents, relating primarily to parties held in the 200-capacity upstairs function room, from September, 2009.

One of the most significant occurred on January 29 this year at a charity night, organised by two 15-year-olds, when police claimed there were upwards of 50 young people in the function room with no responsible adults present.

“As officers spoke to Mr Crolla at the main entrance ... numerous underage youths clearly under the influence of alcohol entered the premises completely unchallenged by him,” claimed the report, which added that incidents of violence, involving people who attended the function, later took place in the town.”

In a letter to the board, local licensing standards officer (LSO) Kim Rowan states that, after an incident in November last year, “the conclusion was reached that, to date, any discussions between police, LSOs and Mr Crolla had had little or no effect and the premises generally had acquired a reputation of being underage friendly”.

Asked to comment, Mr Crolla told TheSouthern yesterday: “Because of its size, our function room is popular for parties for people of all ages and, although that is a key part of our business, I made the decision in February that no more 18th birthday parties will be held there.

“I will be stressing to the board that there is no evidence in the police reports of alcohol actually being sold to under age youngsters on the premises and that any time test purchasing has taken place we have passed with flying colours.

“On January 29 the adults at the party had left by the time the police arrives and I had a heavy cold which may explain why I did not smell alcohol on the breath of the young partygoers. I have tried very hard to cope with the national problem of youngsters getting tanked up on cheap drink before going out.

“On one occasion, I searched everyone before letting them into the party, so I do take the issue of underage drinking and protecting children very seriously.

“I accept there have been problems, but I will be assuring the board we are doing all we can to solve them.

“I am a respectable businessman and it is certainly not in the best interests of me or my staff, who face losing their jobs, for H20 to be discredited in this way.”