‘Palace-Gate’: Viv ponders the cost - and involvement of councillor - in battle to discover why Chatteris bar was forced to close down
- Credit: Archant
BUSINESSMAN Viv Salisbury claims that Councillor John Chambers - his former friend and town mayor- was responsible for complaining to police about the way he allegedly ran a Chatteris club.
In what has been dubbed ‘Palace-Gate’ the complaint triggered an extraordinary series of events which has led to a two year probe by Cambridgeshire Police investigation department who have examined old emails and reports in the period leading up to the club’s closure.
A Cambs Times investigation has also focused on discrepancies in the application of licensing rules and laws which saw Mr Salisbury forced out of the Palace Bar on Market Hill. He calculates his losses at £150,000.
Police categorically deny any “conspiracy” although one email unearthed through our inquiries lends speculation to what was happening.
Det Sergeant Steve Atkin recalls there being “not many police concerns about the Palace” and admitted “there seemed to be more of an issue from the FDC perspective”.
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DS Atkin said that “as far as I was concerned there were no grounds for police to call for a licensing review. I do recall there seemed to be some appetite for ‘us’ to call a review.”
But in conversation with colleagues he accepted there were “insufficient grounds under the licensing objectives.”
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And in a later sentence DS Atkin once more notes “I did wonder why there appeared to be such an appetite to tackle the Palace from within FDC. As such as far as I was concerned the police response was balanced and I had no intention, nor was I pressured or influenced by my senior police managers, to investigate or take action beyond what was reasonable.”
Some of the seeds of discontent – which led to Mr Salisbury closing amidst a hotly disputed dispute with the council and the Palace owner and his landlord Abdul Hai- were sown almost immediately.
Ironically it was Cllr Chambers, a well known local builder, who was given the job of refurbishing the Palace.
Cllr Chambers began work in January 2010 after agreeing a labour only contract to prepare it for re-opening as a late bar.
It was agreed that all materials would be paid for by Mr Salisbury and that Cllr Chambers would be paid weekly as the job progressed. He received in excess of £18,000.
Immediately after the Palace opened, Mr Salisbury received complaints from Fenland Council about a smokers’ roof terrace but that turned out to be the least of his problems.
Evidence unearthed during our investigation shows that a Chatteris police officer, PC Chris Goodman acted on a complaint by Cllr Chambers.
Three days after the Palace opened, PC Goodman emailed Kim Winterton, licensing officer at Fenland Council, outlining some concerns about the terrace.
“People have said to me that it’s only a matter of time before someone falls over the barrier/edge and off the roof,” wrote PC Goodman.
“They feel that there is no way that this would have passed safety checks and is also not very steady as you can move it back and forwards with your hands..”
Mr Salisbury said: “When I found out about this email I couldn’t believe what I was reading since PC Goodman had categorically not been inside to see it. He must have been told this by someone else.”
That “someone else” turned out to be Cllr Chambers.
For on February 4 this year PC Goodman, responding to questioning by the police investigations department, admitted that he had been briefed by Cllr Chambers.
Inspector Steve Bretherton of the police investigation department asked PC Goodman to “please explain how you came by the information that you refer to in your email to Kim”.
PC Goodman responded that the information “would have come from people raising their concerns with me and me reporting it which I am duty bound to do.
“I can recall one person who did raise concerns to me over the balcony and stairs access to the smoking area was Chatteris town councillor John Chambers, who is currently the mayor of Chatteris.
“However again I am aware from being a local resident and from my time working in Chatteris that there is also conflict between Mr Chambers and Mr Salisbury”.
The trail of emails – recovered from Fenland Council among a package of 22 Freedom of Information requests- show that Kim Winterton maintained correspondence with PC Goodman.
Mr Salisbury said: “What I find surprising is that every police officer involved before during and since has never raised any issues about the Palace or the running of it. The notable exception is PC Goodman who was still corresponding with Kim Winterton in November 2010.”
PC Goodman responded, on April 1, to say that “I can confirm that it is open and selling alcohol and Mr Salisbury is person (sic) running the show.
“The premises is (sic) in a varying state of repair with it being built/refurbed even thought its open to public now…”
On November 4 the FOIs produced another email from PC Goodman to Kim Winterton at FDC.
“I am being told by separate people that there is a lot of underage drinking taking place at the Palace on Market Hill. It appears to be mainly underage girls who are being allowed into the location and drinking into the early hours.”
Mr Salisbury said: “Ironically although these were serious accusations there is no evidence PC Goodman took any action. I have asked for the entry into his notebook and the data base into which he should have put them but to date I have received nothing.”
The Palace stayed open until August 11, 2011 but closed following a meeting between council officials and Mr Salisbury’s landlords.
Minutes of that meeting, again disclosed under FOI, allege that police had made complaints and reported “at least 35 incidents have occurred at the premises and we have seen three CCTV incidents where serious assaults and public order offences have taken place outside the premises involving customers who have just left the pub”.
Mr Salisbury said: “The police evidence is quite clear. This accusation was false.”
He insists his dossier of complaints – uncovered partly as a result of the police investigation- is sufficient for Fenland Council to respond.
“You ask what I want? £150,000 will do which is the amount I am out of pocket,” said Mr Salisbury.
“I have been treated unfairly and the actions of Fenland Council and a police officer have been despicable,” he said.
“I have tried to find out too why Cllr Chambers – who was a regular patron of the club- would turn on me.
“What I find amazing is that when Cllr Chambers had lost his licence for drink driving my sister in law used to drive both him and his partner –now his wife- home.”
A council spokesman said: “We have engaged with Mr Salisbury through our normal 3Cs complaints procedure.
“Throughout, we are satisfied that the council has acted appropriately in terms both of its licensing and planning functions and its work with the police and other agencies.
“We have advised Mr Salisbury that he is free to take his concerns to the Ombudsman if he so wishes. We have no further comment to make.”
Cllr Chambers was approached for a comment and referred us to his solicitor, Fraser Dawbarn.
They have yet to respond.