A shooting club on county border has had its licence to serve booze revoked after people were caught breaching coronavirus restrictions.
As reported first in the Chronicle, police found visitors eating mince pies and drinking wine at Cloudside Shooting Grounds, near Congleton, in December 2020 – a time when hospitality venues in Staffordshire were only allowed to operate takeaway, delivery and drive through services and customers were not permitted to consume food and drink on the premises under tier three covid rules.
Cheshire was under tier two regulations at the time, which allowed customers to consume alcohol inside a licensed venue if drinks were accompanied by a “substantial meal” – but customers had to be served while they were seated and remain seated while eating and drinking.
The shooting ground bosses insisted that the club was in Cheshire because it had a Cheshire postal address, a licensing hearing was told.
But police and nearby residents said that the premises was in Staffordshire – and it was Staffordshire Moorlands District Council’s licensing sub-committee that carried out the premises licence review.
The committee had previously met to review the premises licence in April but the hearing was adjourned due to technical difficulties.
As we reported earlier this year, the shooting grounds were accused of being “the worst example” of covid non-compliance in Staffordshire by police who had applied to have the licence revoked.
Staffordshire Police said an application had been made to the district council to review the Red Lane premises’ licence because the licence holder showed they had a “blatant disregard for the regulations, which is a serious failing of compliance”.
The force said that not only had the club breached covid regulations by allowing people to eat and drink alcohol on the premises during December, but a further breach of the premises licence was made because guns had been left unattended on top of sofas in the lounge and that a child was seen playing in an area next to unattended guns.
On 19th December, police received a report from someone who had been walking past the club and seen customers inside with drinks in their hands. They said the television was on and that the car park was “full” of vehicles.
Later that day, two police officers visited the premises in response to a report of a covid-19 regulation breach.
The officers entered the clubhouse to find five people seated at three different tables within the dining area, “consuming what appeared to be wine and mince pies”.
On 30th December, a police officer and licensing officer visited Cloudside Shooting Grounds to complete a premises licence compliance check.
“As they walked into the club, officer’s body-cam recorded four people with food and drink at the table in front of them,” the application said. “They were under the gazebo on the patio area, which forms part of the licensed premises. Given the remote location of the premises, the officer believed the food and drink had been supplied from the premises,” the premises licence review application said.
Police said this was a breach of the premises licence because no notices requesting that patrons respected the proximity of local residents and to leave the premises and area quietly were displayed, and because no members of staff were present during the visit to operate the cctv system.
When police viewed cctv from the club, they found that on each of the five days recorded, the premises was open and serving alcohol and food.
The premises were “busy” and on some of the days “crowded with customers”.
There was no social distancing, with some customers walking around with drinks, standing without masks and only a small number of customers and staff were taking covid-19 precautions, the report said.
The review of cctv footage also highlighted further breaches of the premises licence as it showed guns left unattended on top of and next to sofas in the lounge, guns being carried through the licensed area of the premises that were not in slips or gun cases and the gun room left open, with no staff members present.
Licensing officer Lisa Roberts from Staffordshire Police told the council committee: “A report was received that an informant had been walking past Cloudside Shooting Grounds and customers were seen inside with drinks in their hands. They said the television was on and the car park was full of vehicles.
“PC Higgins and PC Redman attended the shooting grounds. Officers entered the clubhouse to find five people seated at three different tables within the dining area, consuming what appeared to be wine and mince pies.
“PC Redman physically showed a mobile device that showed a Government site with the premises postcode entered into it, clearly showing that they are in tier three. The officers requested that the five people eating and drinking leave as soon as possible, which they did.”
Business director Maurice Snelling was given advice on Christmas Eve by Staffordshire Moorlands District Council about which parts of his business could open and which could not under tier three rules.
But on 30th December the two officers from Staffordshire Police returned and found four people with food and drink on a table in front of them.
Ms Roberts said: “The premises was busy and on some of the days crowded with customers. There was no social distancing, with customers walking around with drinks, standing without masks and only a small number of customers and staff taking covid-19 precautions.
“It is clear on each of the days the footage was recorded the premises were not adhering to the tier three regulations and were open for business. The premises was not adhering to tier two regulations.
“This is the worst example of a lack of compliance with the coronavirus legislation by a licensed premises in Staffordshire and due to the premises licence holder/designated premises supervisor being directly involved shows that they themselves have a blatant disregard for the regulations, which is a serious failing of compliance and further undermines the objectives of public safety and the protection of children from harm.”
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council issued a fixed penalty notice in January for the breach of covid-19 regulations and the fine was paid later that month.
Duncan Craig, who represented Mr Snelling at the hearing, said he had used the Track and Trace app, which indicated the premises was in Cheshire CW1, as his guidance to what tier the venue was in.
Mr Craig added: “As far as he is concerned these premises are situated in Cheshire, notwithstanding the fact that it is licensed by Staffordshire Moorlands. Just because someone is licensed by one authority it doesn’t necessarily mean it follows that the county they are in is in accordance with that.
“The postal address is Congleton, which is Cheshire. It is a CW12 postcode which is a Crewe postcode. There is a huge number of letters from your authority, from Staffordshire Police, local residents, the department of work and pensions, all of which say the premises is in Cheshire.
“Based on all that, it was a perfectly reasonable conclusion for him to arrive at and if you arrive at that conclusion, it casts a whole different light on his alleged culpability.
“How has this come to the attention of the police? It’s by local residents calling the premises up – a premises that was open and had nothing to hide. It wasn’t as if the curtains were drawn.
“They were carrying on in a manner that would suggest they were just doing what they were lawfully permitted to do. As soon as they were told to stop, they stopped straight away.
“He is especially upset at the suggestion he has in some way consciously and deliberately sought to cock a snook at the regulations. If he’s made a mistake, he’s sorry and certainly did not want to upset anybody or inadvertently breach the regulations.
“At no point did he intentionally breach any regulations. He’s got Track and Trace posters, there was a thermometer there being utilised, alcohol gel in place. Guests were asked to wear a mask.
“Maurice’s position is ‘I may have fallen below the standard inadvertently and there may have been some incidences where tier two wasn’t complied with, but there was certainly no intention to breach any rules’. He has held this licence for a large period – 11 years – and he has held firearms certificates for a long time. You don’t hold a licence like that by not being a responsible member of society.”
But committee chairman Coun Brian Johnson said: “I don’t think anybody disputes the fact the postcode is Cheshire. That is a means, as I understand it, for Royal Mail and the Post Office to deliver letters.
“It took me all of 90 seconds to ask Google to show me the borders of Staffordshire, which shows the premises is in Staffordshire.”
• Reporting of the council meeting: local democracy reporter Kerry Ashdown.