Late licence granted for Epping club despite police objection

An Essex nightclub where a person’s teeth were knocked out in a fight has been granted a late night extension to its closing time and licence to sell alcohol for nine months.

PlayHouse, in Epping, will remain open at a full 700 capacity until 2.30am on Fridays and Saturdays, a one hour extension to the licence and will stop serving alcohol to customers at 2am.

The club element of the venue will remain closed on all other days of the week, with its adjacent cocktail bar closing at midnight Monday to Thursday.

But Essex Police objected to the application by CK Entertainments Ltd at an Epping Forest District Council meeting on Tuesday November 2, drawing councillors’ attention to a number of violent incidents which occurred at the club.

Police particularly noted a brawl outside the club on its reopening night after the lifting of coronavirus restrictions.

According to council documents, a victim’s teeth were knocked out after being punched in the face.

Body camera footage of the incident was shown to the committee in private. The incident occurred outside the club at 3.05am on July 25, after its then 1.30am closing time.

Kelsey Dott, Essex Police Licensing Officer, said that were licensing activities to move back by an hour, the number of similar incidents would likely increase as people spilled out onto the street.

She told the meeting: “Essex Police feel that due to the incidents of crime and disorder and public nuisance that have been documented in our objection, that having the premises open until two o’ clock we feel will further increase more incidents of crime and disorder, as stated in our body worn footage that we would like to show.

“It shows that at 3.05am there are still people hanging around on the high street causing a public nuisance and leading to crime and disorder.”

However, club bosses argued at the meeting the incident would not have happened were it not for the actions of Essex Police after they were called to the venue.

They claimed staff performed a citizen’s arrest of the perpetrators, handcuffing and detaining them, but they were released by the police on their arrival, prior to the assaults.

Richard Bunch, crime and disorder consultant at Complete Licensing and a former Metropolitan Police officer, told the committee he thought the actions of Essex Police that day were “nothing more than a neglect of duty by failing to investigate.”

He said: “Why people were allowed to leave is beyond me.

“We had two people that should have been arrested, detained and dealt with, either for assaults or at the very least a Section 3 offence of affray.

“This was not done.”

Essex Police said immediately arresting the suspects, before they had the full information on the reasons for doing so, risked the arrests being considered unlawful under Code G of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

Police listed more incidents since the opening night, including on August 8 when a woman was hit in the head by an object and required stitches, on August 22 when a customer was beaten up after leaving the club, and on October 9 when a victim was slapped and kicked by a female suspect and who disapproved of how security handled the attack.

Of these, Complete Licensing representatives said the object in question was likely a plastic cup thrown randomly in the air and disputed the woman would have needed stitches, that the customer was indiscriminately attacked outside the George and Dragon pub and not at PlayHouse, and that security acted proportionately by separating the two women.

PlayHouse is currently operating at a reduced 499 capacity under temporary events notices, but will be allowed to open at a full 700.

The application permits the provision of live music, recorded music, performance of dance, sale by retail of alcohol, late night refreshments and “anything of a similar description to that of the above” at the venue.

In January 2019, the council revoked the premises licence held by previous owners, then running the venue under the name Club 195, citing a danger of further serious crime and serious disorder.

The new club bosses say security measures have improved since the club changed hands, and a metal-detecting search arch was purchased from Stansted Airport. They have not yet found any weapons on customers entering the club.

They previously applied to extend operating hours on a Friday and Saturday evening to 3am, but were refused on September 1, 2020.

CK Entertainments Ltd will have to reapply for an extended license in nine months, when this new application runs out.

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Charlie Ridler

Local Democracy Reporter