Police and a venue owner have clashed over whether advice had been given about tackling drug-taking in the toilets at the premises in Hove.
The exchanges took place at a licensing panel today (Thursday 1 December) where councillors were told that police had twice found high readings of cocaine Persia, in Church Road, Hove.
Emad Abdolkhani, 33, who owns the venue, told councillors that he had plans to lower and remove flat surfaces in the toilets.
At the licensing panel hearing, Sussex Police licensing officer Hannah Staplehurst said that the force had sent advice and recommendations on removing flat surfaces to Mr Abdolkhani’s representatives on Tuesday 25 October.
But Mr Abdolkhani said that he was waiting to hear from the police before making any changes to prevent drug use in the toilets.
Sussex Police swabbed surfaces during a licensing inspection after Mr Abdolkhani applied to Brighton and Hove City Council earlier this year for a later licence.
He withdrew his original application and submitted a revised request for a late licence in October.
Police then carried out a second set of checks and found MDMA – better known as ecstasy – along with high readings for cocaine.
Police and council licensing officers initially objected to the revised application – but the council licensing team withdrew its opposition to alcohol sales from 11am to 11.30pm daily after Mr Abdolkhani said that he would run the venue as a restaurant after 7pm.
His current “café bar” licence requires substantial food to be available to customers drinking alcohol until 10pm.
But a “restaurant” licence would mean that customers must have a meal if they wish to drink alcohol – and under council licensing policy this would permit midnight closing.
Ms Staplehurst told the panel of three councillors – Christopher Henry, Jackie O’Quinn and Dee Simson – that the force had “no confidence” in Mr Abdolkhani’s management. She said that other venues in the city achieved “zero” readings when officers carried out drugs checks.
Sussex Police had concerns about a “split” licence, saying that it could prove hard to enforce if people were drinking wine in the late afternoon then told that they had to eat after 7pm if they wanted more to drink.
Only one other venue in Brighton and Hove operated such a licence, the panel heard, and it closed as a café at 3pm and reopened as a restaurant from 6pm to 9pm.
Ms Staplehurst said: “Sussex Police cannot support this application while they have current drug problems.
“No action has been taken to prevent drug usage despite an email being received by the licensing team on (Tuesday) 25 October telling us changes will be made.
“Sussex Police do not have confidence in the management of this premises that they can or should run a split operation allowing a café until 7pm and a restaurant thereafter.”
She said that police had recorded hundreds of violent crimes, many of them drink or drug-related, within a quarter of a mile of the venue. There was no suggestion that they were directly linked to Persia.
From August last year to July this year, officers dealt with 260 violent crimes, 356 incidents of anti-social behaviour and 69 cases of criminal damage in the vicinity.
The Central Hove electoral ward was also ranked fifth worst out of 21 in Brighton and Hove for drink-related crime and disorder.
Neighbour Tanya Petherick also objected to the licence extension, with concerns about increased noise because some customers would be able to overlook her garden.
In the 14 years since moving to the area, she said, the character of Church Road had changed from mainly shops and offices to more bars and restaurants.
She had objected to previous applications at the site and said that she did not have a good relationship with Mr Abdolkhani.
She mentioned a lack of planning applications and said that Mr Abdolkhani was banned from being a company director in August last year for under-declaring tax. But she was told that these issues were not licensing considerations.
Mrs Petherick said: “I’m not really surprised by some of the things the police have found in terms of the applicant not trying to fulfil his criteria to make things better for local residents. That’s been our experience as well.”
Mr Abdolkhani’s representative, John Milton, of Knight Training, said that drugs were an issue in licensed venues across the country, adding that his client would work with Sussex Police to find ways to put people off using the toilets for drug use.
Mr Milton said: “If it’s becoming a restaurant, those two drugs, MDMA and cocaine, just don’t apply in a restaurant environment.
“From 7pm at night, it will be completely a restaurant. If that requires toilet checks every hour or even half hour, the applicant is quite prepared to settle with that to have someone go there.”
The licensing panel retired to make its decision which should be made public within five working days.
LIKE WHAT WE DO? HELP US TO DO MORE OF IT BY DONATING HERE.