Hartlepool licensees’ chief admits ‘we got it wrong’ and asks to revert to 2am closing

Darab Rezai wants to scrap 4am pub closing and go back to 2am.
Darab Rezai wants to scrap 4am pub closing and go back to 2am.

A licensing chief asked councillors to impose a 2am drink ban in the town centre in a u-turn to help revive trade.

Darab Rezai opposed proposals for the introduction of a Early Morning Restriction Order (EMRO) three years ago which could have forced pubs to shut earlier on a weekend instead of 4am.

Licensees then said it could threaten the viability of pubs and clubs and the industry warned of legal action.

But at a meeting of Hartlepool Borough Council’s Licensing Committee yesterday Mr Rezai, chairman of Hartlepool Licensees Association, said he had “got it wrong” and said an enforced closing time of 2am would be widely supported.

He said: “In 2013 we were against it. We were wrong. People drink at home and use the premises and they cause mayhem.”

He said a significant drop in violent crime in recent years was probably because fewer people are going out in the town centre.

Mr Rezai added: “Other towns are quiet, but Durham gets a lot of people because they know they only have until two o’clock.

“It would be supported by taxis, takeaways, restaurants and licensees. The economy of the town would be better and the police and NHS would be happier.”

Nowhere else in the country has adopted an EMRO since councils were granted powers by the Government.

The Safer Hartlepool Partnership, which is made up of bodies including the council, police and health organisations, asked EMROs to be considered again after hearing the estimated cost of alcohol misuse to Hartlepool is over £30 million a year and is strongly linked to violent crime.

But Councillor Allan Barclay said much of the cost could not be linked to drinking between 2am and 4am.

He said: “The evidence we have at the moment is nothing’s happened in two years, in fact, it’s (crime) gone down.”

Licensing committee chairman Coun Trisha Lawton said: “The statistics might have gone down but there has been deaths, people killed in these roads.”

Ian Harrison, council licensing officer, said there would have to be “compelling evidence” that an EMRO was the only way to tackle crime and disorder.

Coun Ray Martin-Wells said while he supported the idea he did not think it would stand up to a costly legal challenge.

He said: “A full-blown judicial review could cost this authority about £250,000 and I believe we have a moral obligation to the public purse.”

Coun Jim Lindridge, who is not on the committee, urged: “We should not let big business determine what we do as an authority.”

Councillors unanimously agreed to ask the Safer Hartlepool Partnership to present evidence to them to justify the need for an EMRO before a final decision is made.