THE owner of a Weymouth bar claims he was 'harassed' by council officers who suspended his licence following reports of anti-social behaviour and concerns over social distancing at the premises.

A licensing hearing heard Fat Cat/Rumshack was visited four times in one week before its licence was suspended on July 17.

The council say they, and others, were only carrying out their duty in response to police and public concerns over the Maiden Street venue.

Police evidence was not heard in public at the Dorset Council online summary review on Tuesday and the owner, Jamie Lyones, did not appear at the hearing.

Councillors heard that there were allegations of assaults outside the premises in early July and a claim that there had also been an assault within the building – all of which are still being investigated by police.

In a statement, Mr Lyones said he had been involved in the business for five years and took his responsibilities seriously. His statement pointed out that the incidents did not take place in the premises and the injury which police claimed had happened in the bar had, in fact, been a customer who was injured in a fall outside, and had returned where staff gave first aid and called an ambulance for him.

The statement said the concerns had arisen in a short period following the easing of Covid restrictions and that, despite requests, police had not shared their evidence prior to a hearing on July 27, which, it said, was ‘extremely prejudicial to Mr Lyones receiving a fair hearing'.

The statement said that after concerns about social distancing were raised during a visit on July 4, the re-opening night, advice was received and subsequently followed by staff.

“Following that first night, no further concerns have been raised by the police regarding the Government guidelines.  Police officers visited the premises on the 6th, 9th and 10th July and no concerns were raised.  Mr Lyones had reacted positively to that opening night by employing more staff to operate in the premise to enforce the guidance,” said the statement, submitted by solicitors.

The statement also added that CCTV in the premises, which had not been working, had since been repaired. The council claim that break down amounts to a breach of the licence conditions.

Councillors on the licensing sub committee heard that residents living nearby had complained over a period of months, prior to lockdown, about noise from the building and elsewhere in the area – but only one had agreed to have noise monitoring equipment installed in their home and that had not provided enough evidence of nuisance for action to be taken. Others had been asked to fill in diaries over a two week period, but few had done so, and those which had been completed proved not actionable.

Nigel Shearing for the Respect residents group of 21 members, said that noise and disturbance in the area had reduced since the premise licence was suspended and that people were worried about it re-opening. He claimed that five or six people had moved away from the area in the past 12 months because of disturbance late at night, or early in the morning. The town centre area has 180 licensed premises, some allowing drinking until 5am.

A council enforcement officer, John Newcombe, said that when he visited the area around the Fatcat/Rumshack shortly after lockdown restrictions were eased he found the street ‘chaotic’. He said there were no door staff at the premises and many people ‘huddled’ around the bar, too close he claimed, to meet Government guidelines.

Mr Lyones was initially not there, but later arrived and produced documents including a copy of the licence and an incident book, but was unable to produce a risk assessment document, claiming it was not needed. He said that Mr Lyones had initially claimed that the council visiting four times in a week amounted to ‘harassment’, but after talking further he became ‘more conciliatory,’ explaining why the CCTV had not been working between July 4th and 8th and listening to the council officer’s concerns saying that he would take the necessary action.

The licensing sub-committee then met in private to hear the police evidence which they said was exempt and need not be heard in public.

A decision of the licence review is expected to be reported at a later date.