The fate of a popular Wick nightclub hangs in the balance after the manager had his licence suspended.
After deliberations running into Tuesday night, members of Highland Council’s licensing board voted to suspend Robert Sutherland’s licence for four weeks.
The Waterfront, on The Shore, was put under surveillance by the police and the council after a series of alleged assaults went unreported by management.
Police said Mr Sutherland was “not fit” to hold the licence.
‘Risk to public safety’
In a written submission to the licensing board, chief superintendent Conrad Trickett said the grounds for licence review related to two objectives in the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 – preventing crime and disorder, and securing public safety.
The police letter stated that two serious assaults had taken place since August, and both had gone unreported by the Waterfront management.
Additionally, Mr Sutherland was said to have obstructed police efforts to review CCTV footage.
On a visit to the Waterfront on August 24 following the first assault, police told Mr Sutherland that both the police and the council “had concerns in relation to poor management of the premises, including intoxicated patrons, disorder, violence, lack of control, and failure to contact the police”.
‘I have a nightclub to run’
Police said Mr Sutherland accepted he had a duty of care for his customers, and was willing to turn the situation around.
However, a second alleged assault went unreported on October 2.
When police asked Mr Sutherland to allow them to review CCTV, they found him “unwilling to cooperate”, telling offers he had a nightclub to run.
Chief superintendent Trickett concluded: “I have concerns that should the premises continue to operate in this manner, with the foregoing information clearly evidencing poor management and a failure to engage with the authorities, then there is the potential for further serious incidents to occur, which will pose a significant risk to public safety.”
However, Mr Sutherland’s lawyer, Peter Lawson, challenged the police findings, claiming the incidents were not in fact serious assaults.
He claimed in one of the alleged assaults: “This guy has simply fallen over.”
He also alleged that the police visit at 11pm to review CCTV was not reasonable, given that the nightclub had a series of safeguarding actions to undertake at that time.
He stated that had Mr Sutherland stopped to download CCTV footage as officers requested, it would have prevented further live recording, which could have endangered his patrons.
Mr Lawson stated that the worst picture had been painted by police and said staff had successfully run the club for nine years during particularly difficult recent times.
‘A good going rammy captured on CCTV’
Mr Sutherland’s legal counsel further claimed that Mr Sutherland had not been aware of one assault happening. However, police officer Katy Duncan countered that she had clear CCTV depicting Mr Sutherland entering the toilets where there was “a good going rammy happening”.
In response to statements that it was a particularly busy night, officer Duncan added that a busy night does not excuse poor management.
“Measures are not being taken; there is no duty of care to the patrons,” she said.
She added that should the club remain open, there was a risk of serious harm to the public.
“I’m so concerned that we’ve skipped the action plan stage and come right to the board with our concerns,” she said.
“If these premises continue to operate in the manner they’re operating in now, there’s risk of more individuals coming to harm in these premises.
“I respectfully request that board members give consideration to suspending the licence at the Waterfront.”
‘The evasiveness does concern me’
Moving into deliberations, members debated for several hours the most appropriate response to the allegations made.
“The evasiveness of the premises licence-holder does concern me,” said councillor Andrew Jarvie.
“I concur with the police’s grounds for review.”
Mr Jarvie suggested the licence could be limited to 1am.
Councillor Emma Knox highlighted insufficient staffing on the nights in question, despite the club having a large staff to manage a potential capacity of 1200.
Mrs Knox further stated that Mr Sutherland’s evidence suggested he still did not take the allegations sufficiently seriously.
The meeting soon became complicated, as several motions and amendments were tabled and debated.
After three rounds of voting, members agreed to suspend Mr Sutherland’s licence for a period of four weeks.
This was felt appropriate to allow for a review of working practices without significantly damaging the business or risking its employees.
By local democracy reporter Nicola Sinclair