A pub landlord has managed to avoid having his premises shut down after it was caught serving pints of lager to people when the country was meant to be in lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The decision not to close the Santa Clara pub in St Clears, in Carmarthenshire, Wales, and ban its landlord Richard Pearce, was made by a licensing committee at Carmarthenshire Council this week.
Police had called for the pub to be closed down for three months and said Mr Pearce should be removed as the "designated premises supervisor" after officers found people drinking inside the premises twice on the same day – the second incident coming less than an hour after the first.
This was also a week after council officers had visited the pub and spoken to Mr Pearce about an allegation that the premises had been open to customers since being forced to close on Friday, March 20, due to the outbreak of coronavirus.
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The regulations enforcing the pub and restaurant closures came into effect at 2pm on Saturday, March 21, across both England and Wales, as per the Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020.
Two days later, on Monday, March 23, Mr Andrew Rees, a licensing officer at Carmarthenshire Council, along with a Trading Standards officer, called at the Santa Clara Inn to enquire about whether the pub had been illegally open during the weekend. Landlord Mr Pearce denied this and said that the premises had been shut in accordance with the new regulations.
However, the following Sunday (March 29), police officers decided to call at the Santa Clara Inn at around 4pm following an anonymous call telling them that text messages had been sent to locals alerting them to the fact that the pub was serving drinks and that entry should be made via the back door.
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Mr Pearce, who was serving as a St Clears town councillor at the time but has since resigned, told officers that he had been painting with friends and that the drinks being served were a way to thank them for their assistance, claiming that no money had exchanged hands inside the pub.
Police officers told the drinkers – four men – to leave the premises and instructed Mr Pearce not to allow any further persons into the pub.
According to a report prepared by Dyfed-Powys Police and read to the licensing committee at a virtual meeting on Tuesday morning, Mr Pearce “apologised and reiterated that the persons would be leaving and it would not happen again”.
However, less than an hour later, at around 4.40pm, two different police officers called at the establishment and found more people – eight men in total – drinking inside. At this point Mr Pearce told officers that, “it’s my fault”.
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Police Sergeant Jason James, of Dyfed-Powys Police, explained to everyone present inside the pub that they should not have been there and instructed them to leave immediately.
He also warned them that they would be issued with a Fixed Penalty Notice if they were caught again. Mr Pearce, however, was issued with a penalty notice.
Reading the police report into the case at the licensing committee on Tuesday morning, police licensing officer David Bizby said Mr Pearce had displayed a “blatant disregard” for the legislation that was in place at the time and that “throughout the time the officers were present at the premises, it was clear that he did not realise the impact this could have had on the local community.”
In an e-mail sent to police and Carmarthenshire Council, Mr Pearce offered a “sincere apology for the incident”, which he put down to his “naive behaviour”.
He repeated his apology when he appeared at Tuesday’s virtual meeting, telling councillors that, “I am sorry for what happened”.
Despite the previous call by police to close the Santa Clara Inn for three months, Mr Bizby recommended that the pub not be shut down – nor that Mr Pearce should be banned from running it – but rather that the landlord must complete a course in order to obtain a Level 2 Personal Licence Holders Qualification Certificate, which he does not currently hold.
This decision was ratified and agreed upon by the licensing committee at Carmarthenshire Council on Tuesday, which also warned Mr Pearce about his future conduct and imposed other restrictions, including a demand for CCTV cameras to be installed at the entrance and exit points of his pub.
Carmarthenshire Council's executive board member for public protection, Philip Hughes, said: “Not only did Mr Pearce breach the coronavirus regulations and put the lives of the public at risk, he blatantly ignored the police officers’ warning to close his premises immediately.
"The whole country was in lockdown and there is no excuse for what he did. Landlords and premise licence holders have certain responsibilities, and I hope this serves as a warning."
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