Scrapping late-night boozing ‘would have stopped’ Church Street brawl

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TWO revellers appeared in court for a 4am booze-fuelled bust up as councillors threw out a police bid to scrap late night drinking in Hartlepool.

One man arrested after the fracas in Church Street even told police he would probably have “walked away” from the confrontation if he had not been boozing.

A Hartlepool police chief today reinforced their stance that many alcohol related fights would not happen if pubs and clubs could not sell booze so late at night.

Cleveland Police and partner agencies led calls for Hartlepool Borough Council to scrap the sale of alcohol in the town centre between 2am-6am to cut crime and disorder.

But the council’s licensing committee rejected the proposal for an Early Morning Alcohol Restriction Order (EMRO) as councillors feared the move could hurt businesses.

Hartlepool Temporary Chief Inspector Lee Rukin presented evidence to the council in support of the EMRO including a rise in the number of violent offences committed between 3am-6am over the last six years.

He said of the court case: “An EMRO would have supported the prevention of such a crime occurring at this time in the morning and drawing upon police resources which otherwise could have been used elsewhere had it been in place.”

At the same time as councillors debated the issue, Martin Daniel Oliver and Paul Willingham appeared at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court for fighting outside The Loft in Church Street at 4.30am on Saturday, April 20.

The pair, who knew each other from school, were found wrestling in the street after throwing punches at each other.

Prosecutor Joanne Hesse said: “Police attended following a report for assistance by doorstaff.

“The defendants had been fighting with each other and were wrestling on the ground.

“Officers said there were several bystanders present who appeared to be alarmed by the behaviour of the defendants and were trying to get out of the way.”

The court heard they started fighting with each other after trouble flared inside the pub between three or four other men.

Willingham, 22, tried to punch Oliver, 24, in the head because of something Oliver said to him, but the blow missed and Oliver then punched Willingham.

Miss Hesse added: “Willingham told police if he hadn’t had a drink he would probably have walked away.”

Councillor Ray Wells, chairman of the council licensing committee stood by its decision not to introduce the EMRO.

Coun Wells said: “From my own point of view if individuals go out and drink to excess then regardless of the time an establishment closes I’m confident they would have acted in the same fashion even if the premises had closed earlier having drank the same quantity of alcohol.”

Adrian Morris, mitigating for Oliver, of Kipling Road, Hartlepool, said he had only drank a couple of pints.

Mr Morris added: “Looking back he thinks he may have misconstrued the situation unfortunately and this dust up between the two men was swiftly dealt with.

“Neither suffered any injuries.”

David Smith, for Willingham, of St Abbs Walk, Hartlepool, said: “Whilst in the bar he was punched to the head by a stranger.

“He assumed they were friends with the co-defendant and started to fight.”

Both men admitted a public order offence (use threatening, abusive, insulting words or behaviour with intent to cause fear of or provoke unlawful violence).

Magistrates gave each of them a 12 month community order with 100 hours unpaid work and they were ordered to pay £85 costs and a £60 victim surcharge.