Brewing giant Greene King forced to defend position after huge brawl at troubled Chelmsford pub

The future of a Chelmsford pub plagued by violence remains up in the air after a meeting revealed how an “arms-length” relationship and management clashes caused the running of the venue to go “rapidly downhill”.

Brewing giant Greene King has been forced to defend its position against allegations that its hands-off approach to The Bay Horse in Moulsham Street led to “violence, drug dealing and underage drinking”.

The Bay Horse is facing the possibility of being closed down after allegations of drug dealing, underage drinking and violence, culminating in a mass brawl last month that left three people seriously injured.

The list of allegations levelled against the pub includes knife-wielding customers, a customer left with a fractured skull and fights involving up to 50 people, with a meeting to decide its fate held on Monday (September 7).

It was after police were called to a mass brawl outside the pub in the early hours of Sunday, August 9, that an application was made to review the licence.

The premises licence is currently held by the Spirit Pub Company (Services) Limited, part of the Greene King group, which handed the day-to-day operations to Moulsham Properties and Steve Webb.

When Mr Webb fell ill, the operation of the license was left to Manion Group Ltd, under the direction of Gary Manion, leading to clashes during lockdown between Mr Manion and a Webb family member.

Mr Manion has since been removed as a designated premises supervisor.

Essex Police licence officer Gordon Ashford told Chelmsford City Council’s licensing committee that although Greene King are the licence holders, they “have no day-to-day control of the premises whatsoever”.

He added: “They have no direct mechanism to ensure the operation of the premises is in accordance with the licencing act and the objectives of the licencing act.

“They have no direct oversight.

“For some time Greene King have handed the day-to-day operations to Moulsham Properties under Steve Webb. Until very recently that company has had no day-to-day involvement but instead handed it to Manion Group Ltd under the direction of Gary Manion.

“The designated premises supervisor, which according to the guidance, should be the person responsible for the day-to-day running of the premises, was indeed a Webb family member.

“However they were quite clearly subservient to Mr Manion in that a person was sacked from their position on the Friday before this most recent incident took place, which resulted in that individual relinquishing herself as designated premises supervisor the Monday following the incident.

“So we have a remote license holder which is absent and unlike a normal tenant in a pub situation, they cannot control the management of the pub and this ultimately has led to this sorry state of affairs.”

Four people were taken to hospital after the mass brawl last month and Essex Police filed for a review of the pub’s licence.

There are a number of outcomes that could come from the licensing meeting, one being the complete revocation of the pub’s licence and its resultant closure.

In a report published ahead of the meeting, Essex Police claimed that “the venue staff and management have lost control of the premises.”

Since July, police have been repeatedly called to the pub for a number of large scale disturbances.

No decisions have been made about the pub’s future yet, but a number of serious allegations are made in the documents, including through witness statements offered by police officers.

Although there has been a series of other incidents, the event that ultimately triggered the license review happened on Sunday, August 9.

At 12.14am, police were called to The Bay Horse to reports of a large fight where a glass was being used as a weapon.

The fight happened in the car park of the pub, and resulted in three men being taken to hospital with serious injuries.

One man was arrested suspected of being in possession of an offensive weapon.

After he was arrested, police discovered that he had a knife in his possession, as well as a tyre iron.

Body camera footage from the night captured a huge brawl, as well as glass smashing and people screaming.

One of the men taken to hospital suffered a fractured skull and two others suffered fractured cheek bones, documents say.

One officer also said that one of those involved in the fight inhaled a substance from a Nitrous Oxide cannister before the brawl.

Since June, Essex Police says it has been called to the pub 11 times for a number of different reasons.

As well as these disturbances, police were alerted to reports of social distancing measures being ignored, an assault on a member of the door staff, reports of drug dealing and drug taking inside the pub, smashed windows and more.

There have also been allegations that underage drinking regularly takes place at the pub, with children as young as 15 years-old identified as having been drinking at the venue.

At the licensing meeting, Greene King made representations, defending what they called an “arms-length relationship” with the day-to-day operations of the pub.

Piers Warne, representing the company, told councillors: “Greene King do not condone any action that undermines the licence objectives.

“Greene King is a significant company with thousands of premises licences and where we can, we work very closely with officers, council, police and committee members to assist when these things inevitably do happen sometimes.”

Speaking specifically about the Bay Horse, he said: “This pub is free of tie, we let the premises, we have a landlord and under that lease we are obliged to hold the premises licence.

“After that, it’s a very arms-length landlord and tenant relationship.

“We are the landlords who happen to hold a premises licence.

“There is no doubt at all and there is case law to say that a landlord is perfectly entitled to hold a premises licence and at that point take no part in the operations of the premises.

“The key to licensing law is the promotion of the four licensing objectives.”The council’s job is to ascertain who operates the premises and take action accordingly.”

Greene King suggested that amendments to the operating schedules licence in line with police proposals would be appropriate.

David Hook, representing Steven Webb and Moulsham Properties Ltd, said a management agreement was taken out because Mr Webb was taken very ill last year.

At the time of the incidents referred to by Essex Police, the designated premises supervisor (DPS) was Francesca Webb, who gave notice to quit the licence on Monday, August 10, in the aftermath of the brawl.

Ms Webb was replaced by Gary Manion later that same day on an application to vary the DPS. A further application to vary the DPS on the licence was made shortly following an interim licensing hearing.

Mr Hook said: “Ms Webb was the designated premises supervisor until she was removed at her request because she felt she had no ability to discharge her responsibilities when matters came to a head on August 8 and 9.

“We are looking at a period of less than two months during which it would seem the management and running of the premises went downhill rapidly.”

He added that from July, Ms Webb made her concerns known that Covid restrictions were not being adhered to.

“For reasons best known to him, Gary Manion ran the premises from October to March this year without complaint and Ms Webb was working shifts and it was only after they reopened after lockdown that Mr Manion seemed to have gone off the rails completely,” Mr Hook added.

“Our efforts to enlist assistance fell on deaf ears and to this day Essex Police has refused to discuss the matter despite requests to do so.

“We face an issue that the licence may be revoked and we have been denied the opportunity of putting matters right, notwithstanding that we have this exemplary record of 38 years of running premises without difficulty.”

Mr Hook suggested that a licence should be operated by a Webb family member.

He added: “The submission from police doesn’t appear to know how the premises have been run previously or who the Webbs were or what the history was.”

Greene King opposed any suggestion that the Webbs should have exclusive control of the pub.

Chelmsford City Council now has five days to make a final decision on what, if any, licensing action to take.

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter