‘Drinks industry is holding Hartlepool council to ransom’, claims MP seeking 2am closing times

Flowers in Victoria Road in memory of Mark Dixon
Flowers in Victoria Road in memory of Mark Dixon

HARTLEPOOL MP Iain Wright is calling on licensees to close pubs and clubs at 2am following several serious assaults and the death of Hartlepool dad Mark Dixon.

Hartlepool Borough Council has decided against plans to officially scrap 4am closing across the town’s nightspots.

VIOLENCE PROBLEMS: A man being arrested on Church Street.

VIOLENCE PROBLEMS: A man being arrested on Church Street.

Members of the council’s licensing committee met to discuss the possibility of adopting an Early Morning Alcohol Restriction Order (EMRO), which would order bars to close at 2am.

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It comes as police say violence has fallen overall since it peaked in 2006, but there have been several serious incidents in the early hours over the summer, including the death of town dad Mark Dixon.

Mark, who was married to Loraine and dad to five-year-old Ella, died at James Cook University Hospital, in Middlesbrough, almost a week after he was attacked in Victoria Road after 4am on Sunday, October 5.

Local authority chiefs are also looking into the possibility of charging licensees a Late Night Levy to cover council and police costs related to staying open later.

Despite many of the bars voluntarily opting to close at 2am, although they are licensed to remain open until 4am, and licensees and taxi drivers widely agreeing that there is a lack of trade in the town, the council opted against officially adopting an EMRO.

The town’s licensees, however, could yet decide to voluntarily close at 2am when they discuss the issue next month.

And Hartlepool MP Iain Wright has encouraged the pub owners to shut early.

He said: “The key priority has to be the safety of the people of Hartlepool.

“Any threat to health and safety, where people are being hurt or there are fatalities, has to be avoided.

“I’d hope commonsense prevails, and I hope the licensees show some collective voluntary restraint by agreeing to close at 2am.

“I also feel strongly that the drinks industry in general is holding Hartlepool council to ransom.”

National pub chains and brewers have previously indicated that the introduction of an EMRO would have a negative impact on the industry, and have warned that any local authority bringing one in would face a legal battle.

Ian Harrison, the council’s licensing chief, said: “The general consensus is that business is significantly worse now.

“I’m yet to meet anyone who doesn’t recognise that pre-loading, where people drink in the house before going out, is a detriment to licensed premises.

“People often come out already drunk, they use the facilities of the licensed premises without spending much money.

“When there is disorder at the end of the night, the licensed premises carry the can.

“My personal and professional opinion is that I agree with people who would welcome going back to 2am closing.

“But there are no EMROs anywhere else in the country. We’d be the first to do it, and would be open to considerable risk as a council.

“There is no doubt there would be a judicial review. There is no doubt that a 2am closing time is what we want to achieve, and if it couldn’t be challenged then I would recommend an EMRO.

“But that is the reality, and I cannot recommend it.”

All of the members voted unanimously against bringing in an EMRO after listening to Mr Harrison’s advice, though Coun Rob Cook said he felt the council was being “threatened”.

Coun Cook said: “I think we have a gun to our head over this if there is a threat of a judicial review.

“Look at the police resources, the council workers, the NHS.

“Look at it from the point of view of people’s health. We all know that if we close at 2am, people will still drink the same amount as they do when places shut at 4am.

“I appreciate the reasoning behind the recommendation, but as an authority I think we have to consider the people of the town rather than being threatened.”