Bid to ban ex- mayor running pub “a joke” says cabinet member
- Credit: Archant
A court ruled that banning former Wisbech mayor Aigars Balsevics from running the Angel public house in Wisbech for Covid-19 breaches was too severe.
“It is in our view disproportionate to remove him from any managerial/supervisory nexus from the Angel,” magistrates said in upholding an appeal by Elgoods.
Another former Wisbech mayor Cllr Steve Tierney and cabinet member of Fenland Council, posted to a Facebook forum that he felt the decision was “absolutely fair”.
He said the original result delivered by Fenland Council “was a joke, way, way over the top as the courts have now confirmed.
“Fine and suspension suitable punishment”.
Cllr Balsevics has previously paid a £1,000 fixed notice penalty for breaching Covid-19 regulations on Christmas Eve.
Cambridgeshire magistrates noted that the “failings of the 24th of December” - when multiple breaches of Covid regulations occurred – were limited to just the one night.
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“We have heard in evidence, which we accept, that Mr Balsevics has invested in a 10-year tenancy from Elgoods in respect of the Angel, a public house that has many supporters in the local community,” magistrates ruled.
“To require him to be tenant with his hands tied behind his back so to speak is impractical and unrealistic.”
The court’s findings came after an appeal against the licensing committee of Fenland District Council which stripped Cllr Balsevics, who was mayor of Wisbech when the breaches were committed, of his right to run the pub.
Magistrates threw out the main plank of the committee’s decision.
They did, however, insist he be no longer be the designated premises supervisor (DPS) and is removed from the licence.
They also lowered a three-month licence suspension to 28 days.
But crucially, they lifted a Fenland Council order that had removed his “managerial and/or supervisory” role at the Angel.
Magistrates said that “much was made in evidence of the fact that the DPS is DPS at two other local public houses, that have traded without incident.
“In our view, this point cuts both ways – it demonstrates that the DPS does have the necessary knowledge to run a public house appropriately, but it throws his failure to do so on the 24th into sharper contrast.
“We note that the DPS in evidence before this court acknowledged that events on the 24th were not as they should have been, but were disappointed by his attitude that he could not do more with just himself and the staff he had on duty.
“In our view, a DPS of his experience should have anticipated that on the eve of a national lockdown, a Christmas Eve at that when many of his patrons are from Eastern European communities for whom that date is of particular significance, patrons would want to frequent the Angel for a last ‘hurrah’”.
Magistrates said Elgoods had suggested during the appeal that “there is a political aspect to the treatment of the Angel public house and in particular its DPS.
“It is suggested that he is a known local figure, being a local councillor and at the time of the trading complained of mayor of the town of Wisbech where the public house is situated, and that opinion within the council is divided as to his standing.
“This court is at pains to emphasise that our decision is unable to, does not wish to, nor is required to assess if this is so.”
They added that “it is perfectly possible to assess the facts of the 24th, the decision of the licensing sub-committee and the evidence before us now and reach our own decision.
“To do otherwise would be not only unhelpful but in our view ultra vires.”.
Fenland Council licensing committee also removed him as DPS at the Angel and suspended the pub’s premises licence for three months.
“There was little or no safeguarding for employees and customers,” was the verdict of the committee.
“The motive behind this blatant disregard can only be for profit.”
During the original hearing, the licensing committee heard evidence of customers, staff and the mayor “mingling/mixing freely and on many occasions seen having physical contact with each other”.