Leytonstone venue faces battle to keep licence after overcrowding complaint

Police are calling for a Leytonstone live music venue to have its licence revoked after a disagreement with the owner.

The Luna Lounge on Church Lane is an independently-owned venue, established in 2004, which opens from 11pm to 1am daily and plays live music until midnight.

On July 4, police responded to a complaint of overcrowding at the venue and said owner Suja Luna Khaled “launched into a hostile verbal onslaught” against them that put officers at risk.

At a licence review on Thursday September 17, Mr Khaled insisted his reaction was one of panic rather than aggression.

Police constable Darren Brand’s statement to Waltham Forest Council’s licensing committee said there were several customers drinking alcohol outside Luna Lounge when he arrived on July 4.

He added there was no door supervisor, required by the licence, and “no social distancing or any other Covid-related measures whatsoever being implemented inside the venue”.

His statement continues: “Mr Khaled then, in front of his customers and passers by, for no apparent reason, launched into a hostile verbal onslaught against the plain-clothed police officers and Waltham Forest officers.

“His prolonged hostile and emotional outburst led to a significant number of customers attempting to confront police and obstruct them in the execution of their duty.

“As a result of this, it took some time for police to restore calm at the venue again, at the risk of their own safety.”

PC Brand was asked repeatedly by councillors about what had happened to make him fear for officers’ safety but did not give specific examples.

He told the committee: “Mr Khaled in our opinion just wanted to wind up the customers. There was real potential for disorder.”

Mr Khaled attended two meetings at Chingford Police station to discuss the incident and was instructed to hire a Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) to run the venue in his stead as police no longer trusted him to do so.

In the second meeting on July 22, he refused to do so and “became obstructive towards police, asking that the meeting be terminated”, according to PC Brand’s statement.

PC Brand stated: “As a result, the Metropolitan Police see no other alternative but to request the full revocation of the premises licence for Luna Lounge.”

The statement also references a previous incident on June 10, during lockdown, when police say they investigated a complaint that the venue had been selling beer to customers to drink outside.

Mr Khaled explained to officers that his business was struggling financially and that he had kegs of beer that would go off if not consumed but agreed to stop.

Mr Khaled insisted that his reaction to PC Brand on July 4 was one of “panic” rather than aggression and that arrival of the officers “created a circus”.

He said: “It was a very calm bar, the music was low. When the police came in, everyone stood up, it just erupted.”

He said he told his door supervisor not to come in that evening as he planned to close early and was getting customers to drink up when police arrived.

PC Brand stated footage taken by police shows him tell a customer the venue was still serving alcohol at 8.20pm.

Mr Khaled agreed that in subsequent meetings with PC Brand he refused to give up his position at the venue.

However, he told the committee: “I would not be in business for 16 years if I did not follow regulations. I promise you the five licensing objectives are something of a bible to me.”

The majority of his statement and answers to the committee were inaudible due to technical issues with the livestream.

Waltham Forest Council’s licensing committee will make its decision in the next five working days.

Victoria Munro

Local Democracy Reporter