Bar's future up in the air as decision on Covid breach deferred

Bedfords Bar in Norwich

Bedfords Bar in Norwich. - Credit: James Randle

The future of a city bar remains in the balance after councillors were unable to make a decision over whether to strip it of its licence.

On Friday, Bedfords, on Old Post Office Yard in Norwich, was subject to a licensing review following a breach of Covid-19 regulations.

The review came as a result of an incident on November 4, the day before the country went into its second national lockdown.

As the venue was preparing to close, around 30 people stood up in the bar and started singing, dancing and hugging - despite strict social distancing being a requirement for pubs. 

Footage of the night was shared with both the police and Norwich City Council, prompting the council to review the bar's licence.

Richard Divey, the council's public protection officer, said at the meeting: "In this case, there appeared to be no attempt to control after initial seating and of times staff members joined tables of up to nine customers and drank at the same table.

"After entry, very little mask-wearing was observed by customers and almost nill by any staff members at all - even when in close contact with customers."

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He added that in the days following the incident, pub-goers had discussed the night on social media, describing it as, among other things, "crazier than New Year's Eve 2019".

Michelle Bartram, Norfolk Constabulary's licensing officer, said the incident had "shocked the public and other traders".

Norwich Police officers on patrol in the city. PIC: James Bass.

Footage of the incident at Bedfords was shared with police. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press © 2011

She said: "The social media footage has outraged the other licensees in our city as the vast majority have bent over backwards to stay within the restrictions."

She added that Jonathan Carr, son of owner Glen Carr and the venue's general manager, had posted about the incident the following day.

She said: "I am aware of comments relating to Jonathan Carr's social media account. In particular, there was a picture showing him holding one bottle of what appears to be champagne in one hand and the other being directly poured into his mouth. This photo included the caption 'a historical lockdown party'.

"This irresponsible act appears to have been celebrated on social media by the owner's son."

Bruce Faulkner, Mr Carr's legal representative at the meeting, said that the family held their hands up to the fact the incident had happened and that they regretted allowing it to escalate.

He said: "We fully accept there was a breach towards the end of the night. This was the last night before lockdown and for the vast majority of the evening, there were no issues.

"It was a quiet night with proper social distancing and people behaving themselves.

"Right from the very beginning, Glen Carr has accepted that towards the very end of the evening there was dancing and a lack of social distancing. 

"He and his doorman made a decision that it was better to let it play out than try and prevent it. He fully accepts that in hindsight that was probably the wrong decision and that there were steps, such as turning off the music, that may have made an impact."

However, while the review was prompted by the incident on November 4, the hearing was told that on December 23, after the first lockdown, police in the area on a separate matter witnessed a lack of social distancing at the venue.

Glen Carr said: "I will admit that working with the sporadic details which came from the government, with the rules constantly changing, made it very difficult to know what we should and shouldn't be doing.

"I'm not looking for excuses, the incident on November 4 was a misjudgment on my part. I made a mistake and I admit it, but with all the best will in the world we do our very best and I have always put the safety and wellbeing of my staff at the forefront of everything we do."

But after a six-hour meeting, councillors were unable to reach a decision and deferred it until next week.

Ian Stutely, Labour city councillor for Town Close. Pic: Labour Party.

Ian Stutely, committee chairman. - Credit: Labour Party

Ian Stutely, the committee's chairman, said: "The evidence we have heard throughout the day has been complex and there is a lot of detail to consider and talk over."

The meeting will reconvene on Wednesday, February 17 at 3pm, when a decision will be made.