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Draft Project licence approved despite ‘fury’ at football scenes

The Draft Project in Langstane Place, Aberdeen
The Draft Project, Langstane Place

Pints are to be pulled once again in controversial beer tent, the Draft Project, after it was granted a new licence at a make-or-break hearing.

Scores of people protested the application for an occasional licence to sell alcohol at the premises in Langstane Place.

But the licensing board has approved the firm’s application, after PB Devco agreed to stop serving alcohol at 10pm and no longer show high profile sporting occasions.

More than 130 submitted complaints to Aberdeen Licensing Board explaining “shock”, “disappointment”, “frustration” and “fury” at footage shared from inside on the night of Scotland’s historic Euro qualifying victory over Serbia.

Videos shared on social media showed Draft Project customers not wearing masks while standing, chanting, singing and jumping about and hugging as the national men’s team booked a place a first major finals since 1998.

Draft Project’s occasional licence was due for renewal on Friday, but the decision was delayed until a public hearing could be held today.

It meant the venue was forced to stop serving alcohol over the weekend.

Councillors on the licensing board were tied 3-3 on whether to renew the permission, with convener Marie Boulton casting the deciding vote.

Environmental health and licensing officers did not object to the licence being approved, and neither did the police – although north-east commander Ch Supt George Macdonald did push for a ban on televised sport and the 10pm limit for service.

Licensing convener who decided the vote: ‘ Moment of madness could equally have turned into a level of sadness for an awful lot of people’

Ahead of the decision, Mrs Boulton said: “I’m not taking away from what happened – it was unacceptable but it was a very unique set of circumstances.

“We heard from Mr Scott that they staffed up for that evening but I don’t think it would have mattered if they had doubled, or even tripled, it – the problem was the event itself.

“Perhaps there should have been a wider direction across Scotland that the game shouldn’t have been shown anywhere as this has happened in a number of establishments, it is not unique.

“There are no concerns from environmental health or the licensing standards officers looking at public safety, we haven’t heard that from the police.

“What we have heard from police is they felt the situation is retrievable by putting on conditions, accepted by the applicant.

“There is evidence we had two spontaneous outbursts that were contained very quickly within minutes.

“I know there is a lot of the public deeply concerned by what happened: two outpourings of absolute passion and joy.

“I absolutely get that moment of madness could equally have turned into a level of sadness for an awful lot of people but we have not got evidence of systemic failure by management.

“What we have is evidence of two incidents in the same night which happened in a couple of minutes.

“I do not believe it suitable to not issue the licence.”

The application was made in the name of Barry Clarkson, rather than owners PB Devco, which solicitors argued meant the latest coronavirus incident could not be considered against the backdrop of earlier issues about one of the pub group’s other venues, Soul.

Mr Clarkson is the son of PB Devco boss, Stuart Clarkson.

In August, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said photos of non-distanced queueing outside the Union Street pub “made her want to cry”, only days before Aberdeen plummeted into local lockdown.

Solicitor admits ‘ultimate answer’ to avoid rule-breaking would have been for Draft Project not to show the game

David Scott, speaking for the applicant, admitted the “ultimate answer” to the problem would have been to not show the historic fixture.

The Ledingham Chalmers solicitor said: “It’s difficult to look at this as if coming at it in advance – it’s certainly easy in retrospect to suggest it did not look good in those brief incidents immediately after the first goal and at the final whistle.

“People failed to comply with their own requirements in terms of distancing, but as police said there is little that could be done to deal with that in the circumstance and it all settled down very quickly.

“In terms of planning and assessment of whether it would have got out of hand like that, what could be done if the cheering went on longer, if there had been more goals.

“In retrospect, the ultimate answer would be to not show games of this high profile – I think in all circumstances it is very difficult to stop people cheering and celebrating and the answer might have been to have not shown it in the first place.

“But that was never the advice from Aberdeen Licensing Board, in the same way as other boards did make other representations on that particular evening.

“And there hasn’t been anything come out of the Scottish Government to suggest there should be no televisions or sport shown in bars.”

Fellow north pub group called for Draft Project licence to be refused

Janet Hood, an expert licensing consultant representing north pub group Mor-Rioghain, spoke passionately about the plight of other licensed premises, adhering to the rules, she argued, more closely than PB Devco.

The group – which owns the Mains Of Scotstown Inn in Bridge Of Don and bars in Inverness including the city’s oldest, Gellions – is a founding member of the new trade body the Scottish Hospitality Group (SHG).

SHG took to Twitter on the night of November 12 to condemn the customers and marquee owners for the rowdy scenes.

Ms Hood told the hearing: “It’s clear Mr Scott’s clients have shown a token adherence to the rules surrounding Covid-19 and the licensing conditions applying in these times.

“Comments such as ‘the board will appreciate it’s not easy to identify where people are from different households’ – it is easy, you can ask.

“Most of my clients are turning people away if they can’t demonstrate where they are coming from and to say this is something staff do not do and they just accept it, strikes me as definitely not going as far as one should to ensure public safety in a busy, popular premises.

“They make excuses Environmental Health didn’t tell them what to do but it isn’t Environmental Health who has to tell businesses what to do, it’s the businesses themselves which have to decide how best to comply with the rules and requirements.

“They say if customers decline to give correct details they will be turned away but given they don’t ask details about who is coming from where that is undoubtedly just a statement, rather than an action.

“They appear to have difficulty understanding social distancing, the requirement to wear face masks, they don’t challenge anyone not wearing a face mask – most premises I deal with turn people away unless they give a reasonable excuse –  it may not be very nice but it is certainly likely to help people comply.

“Whether or not they have TVs on the premises is really irrelevant – they have not been particularly compliant.

“They do not have appropriate measures according to their own admission

“And my clients ask you do not grant this particular occasional licence until these matters are brought up to the standard applied across Scotland, to ensure appropriate compliance – not token compliance – with Covid-19 regulations.”

Public rounded on the Draft Project in swathes of complaints

Complainants included a person who has self-isolated since March, complaining about the unfairness of crowds flouting the rules while their son could not have a “proper wedding”.

“Please do something about this before Aberdeen ends up in another lockdown,” they pleaded.

Another person, claiming to be an infectious diseases doctor working on the front line told board members “it was devastating to see the lack of regard for public health measures”.

North-east police commander, Chief Superintendent George Macdonald, has suggested early closing times for Draft Project – as well as a prolonged ban on the marquee being allowed to show high profile football matches.

PB Devco had already been ordered to remove its televisions after the outrage, until December 6.

In response to the complaints, through solicitors Ledingham Chalmers, PB Devco told the licensing board: “The celebrations were evident, but they were also very brief. Any suggestion that this was either expected, or continuous throughout the evening is not correct.

“A sudden boiling over of passion that was over no sooner than it had started.

“The schedule attached contains a number of photos taken from the CCTV on the night, showing the social distancing in place, all in line with the Covid-19 regulations.

“To jeopardise the potential future of the business based on complaints arising out of one isolated incident, caused by a brief outflow of happiness and celebration would appear to be entirely disproportionate.

“The applicants have always taken their responsibilities seriously, and will continue to do so.

“It is in their interest, as much as the board’s to operate consistently with the board’s licensing objectives.

“We respectfully ask that the occasional licence application for The Draft Project is therefore once again approved, on the same terms as all previous successful applications, with the addition of the extra condition proposed by Police Scotland.”

Draft Project owners ‘unable to contain the outbreak of joy’

After the rowdy football scenes, PB Devco boss, Stuart Clarkson, said he was “shocked, disappointed and saddened” at the videos in his newest premises.

In the immediate aftermath, he said: “This simply is not acceptable and I understand why people are so upset by this.

“While we are proud of our venues and the safe environment they provide, it is clear that in this case we misjudged what was likely to happen.

“Despite having four additional members of security staff on duty, we were simply unable to contain the outbreak of joy at Scotland’s success.

“We truly hoped and believed we could provide a safe way for customers to enjoy this crucial match and that we could do that within the existing regulations. We took all steps we could to fully comply with those regulations.

“With hindsight it is easy to understand the scenes of sheer, unbridled joy. Unfortunately in the current pandemic, that is not acceptable and we were unable to prevent or contain what happened.”