Under-18s ban fails to save Gala pub licence

AN assurance that all 18th birthday parties would be banned in his Galashiels pub failed to save the premises licence of Paulo Crolla last week.

The licence, which allows H20 in Overhaugh Street to sell alcohol, was suspended for a month with immediate effect.

Mr Crolla’s own personal licence was suspended for six months.

The decisions were made at Friday’s meeting of the Scottish Borders Council Licensing Board which, as reported in last week’s Southern, had acceded to a police request to review Mr Crolla’s premises licence after a litany of alleged incidents involving inebriated minors.

Notwithstanding the suspensions, when the pub is able resume the sale of alcohol next month, no-one under the age of 18 will be allowed on any part of the premises for any reason, after the board took the unanimous decision to alter the previous terms of the premises licence.

At the hearing in Galashiels, the board, comprising 10 elected members of Scottish Borders Council, was told by Inspector John Scott about the number of incidents dealt with by the police which involved breaches of the pub’s policy of the admission of youngsters aged under 18.

Such breaches often arose from bookings taken for 18th birthday parties and the board heard that H20 had become an attraction for young people with reports of them having already consumed alcohol, being drunk in the premises and being involved in disturbances in the area.

The board heard that one of SBC’s two licensing standards officers had served a compliance notice on Mr Crolla on December 10 last year to address these breaches but, on January 29 this year, police were required to deal with an incident involving about 50 young people, aged 14-17, at what had been billed on Facebook as a charity night .

Councillors were told the booking for this event had been made by a 15-year-old girl and there were no supervising adults present. There was conflicting evidence as to what investigations Mr Crolla had made when taking the booking to verify the ages of those attending and make arrangements for supervision and control.

Mr Crolla was present at the hearing and represented by solictor Andrew Williams. According to an SBC statement, both indicated that they acknowledged Mr Crolla’s lack of proper management and proposed that the operating plan be amended to restrict birthday parties to over 18s only.

However, board members commented that the January 29 incident was the worst they had heard of in relation to “complete lack of regard” for the objectives of Scotland’s licensing legislation and, in particular, the safety of children and young people.

Board convener Councillor Gavin Logan said later: “We cannot accept that the proposal put forward was acceptable in the face of the issues we heard and the attitude which had been displayed by Mr Crolla regarding previous advice given by the police and the licensing standards officer.

“The board felt it was too little, too late and that we had to take action.”

Immediately after making its judgement on the premises licence, the board reviewed Mr Crolla’s personal licence as he was the designated premises manager for H2O. The personal licence was suspended for six months.

Mr Crolla said that while he accepted the management shortcomings exposed by the January 29 incident, he was “very upset” that, when the pub is allowed to sell alcohol again on June 13, no under-18s would be allowed in under any circumstances.

“This will hit the business, no doubt, for we will struggle to take bookings for weddings and family functions,” he told TheSouthern. “In time, I will certainly be seeking a variation of this rule.”

“The problem of underage drinking extends far beyond H2O, but it appears we have been singled out on the basis of what happened on January 29.

“Some youngsters will go to any lengths to get alcohol. We’ve even had them smuggling small shots in their underwear, but I am satisfied no drink has been sold to them on the premises which makes Friday’s decision particularly disappointing.”

Mr Crolla stressed that H20 was open for food from 11.30am till 2pm and from 5 to 9pm and that patrons could bring their own bottles.