At last week’s meeting of the Overview & Scrutiny Committee, councillors received a report from the Safer Woking Partnership on their Community Safety Plan for the borough. The Community Safety Plan is a strategy drawn up by the police, local authorities and other interested organisations with the aim of identifying priorities for combating crime and disorder over the next three years.
The strategy highlighted four areas where the police will be focusing their attention. The first priority is anti-social behaviour. The second is violent crime and burglary, which includes domestic abuse and child sexual exploitation. The third area is drugs and alcohol abuse, and more will be done to provide awareness sessions and counselling, as well as concentrating on issues around the night time economy. The fourth strand of the strategy relates to a broader goal of reducing re-offending by placing greater attention on the most prolific offenders, as well as providing targeted assistance where necessary.
During the meeting I asked a number of questions, including how the partnership intends to work with the Licensing Committee, which has responsibility for regulating night time entertainment in the borough and can take action against premises found to be contributing to crime and disorder. I also asked whether the focus on child sexual exploitation was driven by the national attention on high profile cases in towns like Bradford and Rotherham, or whether it was the result of intelligence about local activity. Finally I asked about whether there needed to be a focus on other aspects of the strategy such as preventing violent extremism, highlighting that early intervention was often the best way of countering radicalisation before it develops into criminal activity.
I was impressed with the evidence by the representatives from Surrey Police and the Safer Woking Partnership and felt that a lot of thought and consultation had gone into producing the strategy. Residents who want more information about policing in their area, including the latest crime statistics, can find out more information on the Woking Police website.
On Wednesday evening I chaired a licensing sub-committee to review the premises license for the Bed Bar nightclub. The meeting was called by Surrey Police who have expressed concern for some time about the large number of criminal incidents and anti-social behaviour involving the club.
Some of the evidence presented to the committee was deeply troubling. In the period since the club’s license was last reviewed, there have been 47 recorded offences inside or just outside the club, including grievous bodily harm, actual bodily harm, drunk and disorderly conduct, drug offences, theft, criminal damage and sexual assault. Committee members were told that the real number of offences was likely to be higher as many are currently before the courts and are hence sub judice. We were shown a comparison with other pubs and clubs in Surrey which indicated that there were more incidents at Bed Bar than any other licensed premise in the county.
Ahead of the hering we were presented with a catalogue of police witness statements detailing the situation in the town centre in the early hours of the morning in the early hours of Saturday and Sunday mornings. In one incident police descibed seeing a young lady stagger out of Bed Bar and immediately throw up on the ground, while two other girls ran towards Albion Square and vomited into the flowerbeds.
As part of the police’s evidence we were shown CCTV footage of a brawl outside Bed Bar on the first weekend in October last year. This was disturbing to watch and showed two or three separate groups fighting with lots of punches being thrown. We were told that this was the closest the police had come to losing control of the town centre and it was nothing more than luck that no member of the public was seriously hurt. The police witnesses seemed unanimous in their view that much of the problems in Woking town centre emanated from Bed Bar and sought a reduction in the club’s operating hours and restrictions on the number of people allowed into the premises.
During the hearing, we heard that there had been a change of management at the end of last year, including a replacement designated premises supervisor. The club has adopted a new set of operating procedures and made improvements which includes the adoption of new technology such as ‘ClubScan’ which allows door staff to flag up people who have previously been involved in altercations at the club and refuse them entry. They have also appointed a consultant to advise them on how to lower tensions amongst guests, created a more visible security presence and given additional training to bar staff to help them identify inebriated customers. Their consultant spoke at the meeting and explained why he had been brought in and how he was recommending that the club move forward to address the police’s concerns. He was an impressive witness and gave the impression that Bed Bar was finally beginning to take its responsibilities more seriously.
My colleagues and I found it difficult to agree on a recommendation. We have tremendous sympathy for the police and for the work they have to do to maintain order in the town centre, and we gave serious consideration to completely revoking Bed Bar’s license. However, committee members felt the club deserved one final opportunity to put things right. We therefore agreed to reduce their opening hours from 3am to 2am, impose a requirement to stop serving alcohol half an hour before closing time, introduce a no admittance policy after midnight, and place a maximum restriction on 325 guests at any one time.
As councillors we cannot tolerate having the worst nightclub in Surrey right in the middle of our borough. We have made clear to Bed Bar’s management that we will no longer tolerate alcohol fueled crime and anti-social behaviour in the town centre at weekends and we expect to see real and immediate improvements.