A GARGRAVE pub landlord has been stripped of his premises licence for two months following a number of Covid breaches.

John Baker, licensee of the Masons Arms, apologised to Craven District Council's licensing and appeals sub-committee during a licence review brought to the table by North Yorkshire Police recently. However, the committee voted unanimously to the suspension.

The committee also decided that Mr Baker would be removed as Designated Premises Supervisor (DPS) and was to be issued with a written warning, relating to an incident on November 4, to remain on file for 12 months.

The meeting heard from PC Jackie Allen and Sgt Jackie Booth, of North Yorkshire Police, as well as the Council’s Licensing officer and Environmental Health officer. A local resident spoke in support of the licence holder, and solicitor Christopher Grunert represented John Baker.

The review focused on two incidents that took place at the premises. The first was on November 4, 2020, when a party consisting of around 30 people was held at the premises.

The Senior Environmental Health Officer told the Committee that the premises had been open after 10pm with around 16 customers present at 23:46 hours, there was no mask wearing by customers or staff, a lack of social distancing, and groups of more than six sat at tables – in breach of relevant COVID 19 regulations.

There was a further incident on December 23, in which the Premises Licence Holder was `sitting and chatting at a customer’s table’, and two customers were drinking alcohol without a substantial meal. There was a lack of mask wearing by customers in/around the premises, staff were also not wearing masks whilst serving food, and customers were attending at the bar at a time when it should have been table service only. It was indicated that the Licence Holder did not challenge customers on any of these occasions. The Sub-Committee heard that this was in clear breach of regulations.

Police told the committee that they had given advice to the licence holder and attempted to resolve the matter. A Premises Improvement Plan had been agreed in November 2020 but had not been delivered upon. The Premises had been subject to the issue of two Fixed Penalty Notices – one issued by North Yorkshire Police on November 12, 2020 and one issued by Craven District Council on February 10 2021 - both of which had been paid.

Local resident John Dovener told the committee that Mr Baker as licence holder had done the best he could and that he had always tried to ensure compliance with relevant regulations.

Christopher Grunert, on behalf of the Licence Holder, accepted that the incident of November 4, 2020 was wrong and that it should not be defended, but maintained it was of a different order to the incident of December 23, 2020 and whilst not acceptable, had to be set against a long record of quiet trading operations in which Mr Baker had held the Premises Licence without substantive incident since 2011. He indicated that Mr Baker would be agreeable to being removed as Designated Premises Supervisor and maintained it would have been disproportionate to revoke the Premises Licence in these circumstances.

Mr Baker said during the review: "Having had time to reflect on the incident on December 23 and November 4 and reviewing the footage it is obvious I’ve made mistakes and I sincerely apologise. I did try to ensure that all regulations were complied with but the police had provided a number of examples where this didn’t happen. This is a matter of regret and I apologise again. It was not my intention to ignore these measures and my motivation was never greed.

"I was simply trying to operate the business for the community in line with the new and rapidly changing regulations. I have already started renewing my own training using online courses in all aspects of the running of the pub.

"I am very disappointed and embarrassed that I find myself in this review after 10 years of service to the community. But I accept my responsibility. I immediately paid the £3,000 in fines for these failings and if the committee will permit it I am determined never to fail in this manner again."

However the Licensing Sub-Committee agreed it was appropriate to remove Mr Baker from the role of DPS for the premises, and that a suspension of the premises licence for a period of two months was a reasonable and proportionate response, and should allow the opportunity for a new DPS to be put in place.

Paul Shevlin, chief executive of Craven District Council, said: “It’s disappointing and concerning when Covid-19 regulations are breached, especially when our officers have been working hard to ensure that premises around the district have all the information and guidance they need to operate safely. We want to make it clear to all hospitality businesses that they must follow the rules and behave responsibly at all times. We need to stay vigilant and observe legislation and guidance to prevent further spread of Covid-19.”