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'The council are trying to force me out of business'

APPEAL: George Smith

A BAR owner in Oxfordshire claiming to be unfairly targeted by council officials and the police is gearing up to fight attempts to close his business.

George Smith told The Voice he faces the prospect of losing his business because Cherwell District Council has revoked his operating licence. He has since instructed lawyers to appeal the decision.

Smith, who has run G’s Bar and Nightclub in Bicester, north Oxfordshire since 1988, claimed Thames Valley Police (TVP) have wrongly blamed him for weekend anti-social behaviour within the market town’s centre.

“I just feel totally victimised,” Smith said.

REASONING

“Their [police] reasoning was that people leaving my premises at 3:00 a.m. ended up causing problems in the town centre, which I really don’t agree with.”

The Jamaican born bar owner, who moved to Britain in 1965, said a licensing officer told him that more people were drunk leaving his premises than any other in town.
But Smith refuted the claims.

“I said to her: ‘You cannot be serious, why do you think people are more intoxicated leaving my premises than other premises?’ Again, it’s total nonsense…Her saying that tells me I’m being targeted.”

Other late night drinking venues, such as the Yates’s chain, also operate in the town.

The 60-year-old, who claimed not to have experienced any prior problems with authorities, said his current issues began in November last year when police summoned him to meet the local inspector and licensing officer at the police station.

“During the meeting they wanted me to stop letting customers in at 1:00 a.m., even though my license is until 3:00 a.m.,” Smith said.

At a second meeting, Smith gave in and agreed to test the police’s suggested closing times of 1:30 a.m.

Saturday and 2:00 a.m. Sunday. “I reluctantly agreed to that because I felt I was being bullied, because all along he [a police inspector] was saying that if I didn’t agree, he would take my license to review.”

Smith said he tried to adapt to the closing times the police suggested but was losing so much money; he had to revert to 3:00 a.m. as originally agreed in his licence.

He said: “At one stage I had probably about 20 people inside and about 80 outside.”

But according to the bar owner, he is being pestered by a heavy police presence outside his business every weekend ever since the November meeting.

“We have at least four to six officers just stood outside against the wall…I would say they are [intimidating tactics], they put customers off.”

Smith further complained that the same intrusive methods were not employed by the authorities at similar venues like Yates’s.

He cliamed he was being forced out because his bar is a few seconds walk from new residential developments.

However, Smith has gained some community support via an online petition he started. One supporter Colin Jefkins wrote: ‘Totally unfair to put the blame on George and G’s for drunken behaviour in Bicester.’

Another, Josephine Percival, added: ‘G’s is the only proper and decent place left in town not owned by big companies… The police should get their act together and stop blaming others for their own failings… very obvious that G’s is being made a scapegoat.’

The council, whose licensing committee revoked Smith’s licence on September 10, commented on why Smith's license was brought to review. A council spokesman said: "In this case, Thames Valley Police submitted a review application on the grounds that the premises was not promoting the prevention of crime and disorder, and public safety objectives.

"Based on all of the relevant evidence provided by both Thames Valley Police and the premises licence holder at the hearing, and taking account of the Licensing Act, its associated regulations, the guidance issued under s182 of the Act and Cherwell District Council's licensing policy, the sub-committee determined to revoke the premises licence."

Minutes from the licensing committee meeting seen by The Voice stated: ‘The Committee did not accept that TVP have treated the premises any different to how they treat all other premises in the area. They had simply responded to a disproportionate volume of incidents that had been linked to the premises.’

TVP told The Voice it would not comment on Smith’s claims since an appeal is ongoing.

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