Some of the bosses of Bristol’s bars, pubs and clubs have labelled Bristol City Council and Mayor Marvin Rees as ‘pathetic’ after the council boycotted a key meeting to discuss drink spiking because of the venue of the meeting.
The Bristol NightWatch, a forum of all the city’s bars, pubs and clubs, met on Tuesday afternoon to work out a strategy to deal with an apparent rise in the number of incidents of people having their drinks spiked.
But because the meeting took place at lap dancing club Urban Tiger – when it was closed during the day – Bristol City Council or the Mayor’s Office refused to attend.
The founder of Bristol’s Bar and Restaurant Association labelled the decision ‘quite pathetic’, and a director of one of Bristol’s leading clubs said he was ‘disgusted’ by the decision.
Bristol City Council said the venue was ‘inappropriate’, given the council has just launched a consultation on the future of the city’s two sexual entertainment venues, and there is ‘an ongoing debate’ about their existence.
The NightWatch Forum evolved from the old PubWatch scheme, and pulls together the landlord of every licensed premises in Bristol, with pub landlords, bar managers and club owners and managers meeting regularly to discuss issues. The meetings are held in different venues each time, with members hosting the forum, and representatives from the police and Bristol City Council always attend.
A representative from Bristol’s main Business Improvement District did attend Tuesday’s meeting, and gave a presentation, and the forum meeting was described as ‘the busiest and most productive’ meeting of its kind, by one leading club owner.
Paul Stoodley, a director of the Queenshilling club, said he believed it was the first time in 11 years of attending PubWatch and NightWatch forums that the city council decided to boycott the meeting because of the venue.
“We have previously held pub watch meetings in venues with issues such as knives, guns, drunkenness, assaults and those with high drug use,” he said.
“This is the first time in my history of 11 years providing night-time service to the Bristol economy that the authorities have boycotted a venue on a PubWatch,” he added.
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Mr Stoodley said the meeting was the ‘most productive’ meeting he’d ever been to. “The topic of the meeting was about drink spiking and the city’s licensees came together as one to work on a new campaign to target the perpetrators of this crime to ensure people are caught and charged,” he added.
Mr Stoodley said it was the first time he’d been inside Urban Tiger, the sexual entertainment venue on Broad Quay, and it was ‘a pleasure’ to be there.
“I’m disappointed in Marvin Rees and Bristol City Council licensing, and the police, who failed to attend. I’m disgusted with the authorities’ boycott of today’s valuable meeting,” he added.
There are two clubs with specific licences as Sexual Entertainment Venues in Bristol, Urban Tiger and Central Chambers. Both recently had their licences renewed, but Mayor Marvin Rees has for years stated his opposition to the presence of SEVs in Bristol, and the debate about their presence has raged for several years in the city. A month ago, Bristol City Council launched a formal consultation about whether the city should have no SEV licences given out at all – which would effectively shut down the two clubs.
The final decision will rest with at the council’s licensing committee, not the mayor, and the council has repeatedly said no decision has yet been made. But when the landlords and club bosses that run the NightWatch forum decided it was Urban Tiger’s turn to host the next regular meeting, Bristol City Council asked them to change the venue and when they didn’t, the council boycotted the meeting.
Brendan Murphy, the founder of Bristol’s bar and restaurant association BARBI said he’d been told the police didn’t attend because their representative was on holiday, and described the decision by the council to boycott such an important meeting because of the choice of venue as ‘quite pathetic’.
“It’s a real shame that such an important meeting has been boycotted by the council,” he said.
“It was the largest NightWatch event we have been involved with over the past four years, and the city’s nightclubs and licensees came together to try to have a collaborative approach to dealing with the perpetrators behind the spate of spiking, and to make sure that all of their patrons can have a safe night out.
“Quite pathetic that council officers are unable to do their job because of lobbying from certain individuals and groups,” he added.
Bristol City Council and the police launched their own initiative to try to tackle the issue of drink spiking this week, through a project called Bristol At Night Panel, run by PR firm Plaster.
On Wednesday, the Mayor’s blog was written by the council’s Night Time Economy Advisor, Carly Heath, about the issue, with the Mayor tweeting that ‘over 100 venues’ were working to end spiking in Bristol, together with the police, health authorities, Bristol’s city centre BID team, the university and the council.
On Friday, a spokesperson for Bristol City Council confirmed that no one from the council attended the NightWatch forum meeting the day before the announcement – a meeting where those ‘over 100 venues’ had worked on the strategy.
The council confirmed that decision not to attend was taken because of the choice of venue.
“We asked NightWatch to move the venue for the meeting on night time safety, as there is an ongoing debate about the role SEVs play in wider safety for women and girls,” a spokesperson said.
“Urban Tiger was also an inappropriate venue to hold a meeting while the consultation on SEV licensing takes place, where we will hear all views on the venues and after which the cross-party licensing committee will take a decision. The City Centre BID team attended the meeting to give a briefing on the drink spiking campaign and answer questions as a major partner in it.
“The feedback from venues and others to the drink spiking campaign has been very positive and we thank Night Watch and all others for their support in leading the fightback against this crime,” he said, adding that Avon and Somerset police also did not attend because of the choice of venue, not because of a holiday commitment.
Bristol Live has approached Avon and Somerset police for clarification on why no one from the police attended Tuesday’s meeting.
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