Cocaine problem could cost Hove bar its licence

A bar faces losing its drinks licence after police repeatedly found high readings for cocaine in the toilets and staff areas.

Sussex Police has asked Brighton and Hove City Council to revoke the licence for Antidote, in Western Road, Hove, formerly the Back Beat Bar.

The police said that it took readings that indicated “bulk” amounts of cocaine in several places on four separate occasions from December 2021 to December 2022.

Low levels of ketamine were found twice and heroin was also found in the DJ booth at the bar.

Antidote lost its lease and closed on Monday 9 January after Sussex Police asked the council for a formal review of the licence.

A council licensing panel, consisting of three councillors, is due to review the licence at a hearing on Monday (6 February).

The venue’s freeholder, Ritan Enterprises Limited, informed Sussex Police that it was seeking a new company to take over the site.

Sussex Police said that regular drug monitoring checks were conducted at Antidote because the previous operation, the Back Beat Bar, had a history of drug issues.

The force said: “The venue was visited several times over the last 12 months for drugs readings to be taken.

“And feedback and advice was provided to the current operator on how to make improvements and ensure their venue was an inhospitable place for drug takers.

“The aim being to have a zero-tolerance policy towards their venue being used to consume drugs.

“Drug readings have since returned to high levels and Sussex Police have no confidence that the current operator is able or has the desire to take control or ownership of the issue of drug consumption.

“They are allowing specific crime to perpetuate at the premises and deliberately undermining the licensing objective of the prevention of crime and disorder.”

Antidote Bar Ltd director and licence holder Francois Roberts, 26, first met with police licensing officers on Saturday 4 December 2021 after taking over the business the previous month.

On the same day, the first set of swabs indicated that several surfaces had been in contact with bulk levels of cocaine – contamination from direct contact with a bulk amount of the source narcotic – not incidental.

Antidote in Western Road in Hove

These were found in four locations in the basement toilets, a table in the basement bar, five sites in the ground floor women’s toilets and in one place in the men’s.

Indications of high levels of cocaine were found in one location in the ground floor men’s toilets along with a low reading for ketamine.

The second visit on Saturday 5 February last year found fewer readings that suggested bulk levels of cocaine. The highest levels were found on a ledge in the ground floor gents and by the flush button in the ladies.

The basement bar had a table area with medium readings and there was a low reading on a toilet roll holder in the ladies.

After the February checks, Mr Roberts emailed Sussex Police to say that he had security staff working daily and was planning to refit the toilets.

He said: “In terms of reducing flat surfaces in the toilets where customers can take drugs off, we have decided to completely renovate the upstairs venue. That will mean new toilets without electric hand dryers, rather tissue dispensers with slanted surfaces.

“As for the actual toilet tissue dispensers, that is a difficult decision to make as customers tend to clog up the toilet with excess tissue which costs us a lot in plumber fees.

“We will instead position them higher up during the renovation so no one can use the surfaces for taking drugs.”

The third drug testing visit on Friday 8 July revealed indications that bulk amounts of cocaine had been on a kitchen countertop and in the DJ booth. Sussex Police said that these were “staff areas”.

Readings that suggested bulk levels of cocaine were also found in three locations in the ground floor men’s toilets and in the women’s.

There were indications of high levels of cocaine on the basement bar, a table and in the ground floor gents and ladies toilets. Low levels of ketamine were indicated in the ground floor gents toilets during the same checks.

The police sent Mr Roberts a final warning. In response, he presented an “action plan” including half-hourly checks in the toilets, removal of any flat surfaces there, security cameras in blind spots and mandatory searches.

Just under two months ago, on Thursday 8 December, a fourth drugs check found readings that suggested bulk amounts of cocaine had been in contact with the basement till screen, the staff side of the bar servery and the toilet roll holder in the ladies.

On the ground floor, “bulk” cocaine readings were found in seven places in the gents and six in the ladies. There were high readings for cocaine in the men’s basement toilets and the front of the basement bar.

And a low reading for heroin was found in the DJ booth.

Ritan Enterprises closed the business, describing the situation as “completely unacceptable” in a statement issued in response to the licence review.

The company has asked the council not to revoke the premises licence while it seeks a new operator and designated premises supervisor who would have day-to-day responsibility for drinks sales.

Unannounced third-party drug testing would take place at least three times a year.

Ritan Enterprises said: “Licence revocation would mean the loss of an independent bar in Hove and have knock-on effects on other businesses in the area.

“It would also likely mean another ugly, depressing boarded-up property in Western Road. None of this would serve the community well. It would be a net negative for the council and Western Road.

“Research by a leading insurer recently showed that in Brighton, some 63 per cent of small businesses face closure in 2023 amid the economic downturn.

“Hopefully, that’s wrong. But, clearly, it makes sense to avoid adding to this statistic when a clear solution exists.”

The licensing panel hearing is due to take place at 10am on Monday 6 February. The meeting is scheduled to be webcast on the council’s website.

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