Published: 26 January, 2017
By WILLIAM McLENNAN
A LATE-NIGHT bar in West Hampstead that police say was being used by gang members to “settle their disputes” has been told it must close one hour earlier in an attempt to end a pattern of violent brawls.
Officers urged Camden Council to cut back the opening hours of the Lower Ground Bar in West End Lane to 1am following a street fight that left one man with stab wounds.
But at a meeting on Thursday, Town Hall licensing chiefs decided the bar –which reopened as Salt in October last year – should be allowed to open until 2am on Fridays and Saturdays – a reduction of one hour.
Barrister Richard Hanstock, for the Met police, said that the violence on May 7 last year followed a number of fights at the venue in the preceding months.
Mr Hanstock told the hearing: “What is happening here, we suggest, is this venue is being used as a premises in which local gang members, who don’t speak to the police, come here to settle their disputes.”
But bar owner Ray Hagan vigorously denied the venue was linked to gangs and told the New Journal after the hearing: “It’s not that type of area. I’ve had the club for 18 years. There’s never been a gang problem. It’s just bad security is all it was.”
He said they would appeal against the decision to reduce the hours.
Robert Sutherland, representing Mr Hagan, told the hearing: “I don’t accept that this premises has had a gang problem.”
He said that they had carried out a £50,000 refurbishment to try to change the impression of the venue, adding: “The feel of it, the ambience, the music culture, that has changed. The music that is played is now more popular music, rather than the music that would tend to attract, as I understand it, gangs.”
Mr Sutherland said the violence in May was “not acceptable”, but added: “Mr Hagan senior had not been well and I think has probably placed a little too much trust and reliance in the DPS (designated premises supervisor) and the security team, hence the situation that arose in May.” A new DPS and security firm have since been appointed, he said, adding that the venue would not be financially “viable” if it was forced to close earlier. It was shut down in the aftermath of the stabbing in May, which saw police called to reports of “around 20 males running after each other” with baseball bats and bottles.
Police said they made two visits in January and found traces of cocaine in the toilets on both occasions.
Having watched CCTV footage of a fight inside the bar, which is believed to have led to the stabbing in the street on May 7, Councillor Jonny Bucknell said: “To me that is not alcohol. That is the violent combination of alcohol and cocaine.”
He said that police should have carried out more regular drug testing and clamped down on it at the first sign.
Mr Sutherland said security staff searched all those entering the bar, and they would also remove toilet seat lids and other flat surfaces to prevent drug taking.
At the end of the four-hour hearing, the two-person panel was split, with chairman Cllr Meric Apak favouring cutting the hours and Cllr Bucknell opposing. A compromise was reached, with the bar ordered to close at 2am, rather than 3am, on Fridays and Saturdays.
A “VIOLENT combination of alcohol and cocaine” is responsible for the level of late-night assaults on the streets of Camden, a Tory councillor has claimed.
Cllr Jonny Bucknell, who sits on the Town Hall’s licensing panel and regularly scrutinises bars and clubs where fights have broken out, said: “I think it’s prolific. Practically every [licence] review, you can almost sniff it off the review papers. I’ve never seen violence like it.”
He believes the combination of cocaine and alcohol leads people to go “completely bananas” and said more should be done to eradicate its use.
Cllr Bucknell made his comments after watching CCTV footage of a fight inside the Lower Ground Bar in West End Lane, during a review of the venue’s licence on Thursday.
He told the Town Hall meeting: “What we saw in that video was somebody, completely unprovoked, walking across the room, calm as a cucumber: whack, he punches somebody. To me that is not alcohol. That is the violent combination of alcohol and cocaine.”
Speaking afterwards, he told New Journal: “Practically every review has got the same thing. The genuine stone drunk, he’s pretty harmless, just a couple of punches and then he collapses. But it’s this intense group, extreme violence, that is the problem.”
Cllr Bucknell, who wants police to be more proactive against cocaine use, added: “They want to keep dancing all night so they start taking just a little. ‘Charlied up,’ they call it. It enables them to keep going. Then they get tired and take some more cocaine. At the end of the evening you’ve got this person with these two tensions in themselves, and somebody says, ‘can you tell me the time, please’, and they go, ‘what, you’re disturbing me’, and they go mad, completely bananas.”
Camden has one of the biggest nighttime economies in the country with around 2,000 licensed premises.