Posted by Woods Whur | Licensing Law

This week I represented a client who had their premises licence reviewed in an attempt to remove the authorisation for boxing and wrestling. They had held three “white-collar boxing” events at which there had been issues, the last one leading to the mass evacuation of the premises and a near-riot. White-collar boxing is unregulated and attracts a crowd which can be difficult to manage. There is little control on who gets the tickets and it can get pretty messy when decisions go against particular boxers. This happened in the case I was involved with, where the trouble started in the ring at the end of the fight and in seconds had spread to the rest of the premises, with a huge police presence needed to quell the trouble. The CCTV footage did not make for good viewing and we had to accept that, for the most part, the SIA doormen were ineffectual.

The Police, on the back of two similar instances of trouble, asked the operator to volunteer giving up the authorisation. The premises licence holder, however, pointed to the fact that they had not had any issues when offering fully professionally-promoted boxing events, and offered to relinquish permission for white-collar boxing and amateur boxing but still wanted to offer professional boxing events as they are remunerative for the club and there was no evidence of any issues associated with them.

The Police were not happy with this as a solution and wanted the premises to have a clear break from any form of boxing for a “dampening down” period of at least a year. My clients didn’t want to test the relationship with the police but after considerable discussion instructed me to offer conditions but retain the professional boxing authorisation.

So, horrendous public disorder and violence at white-collar boxing, but no evidence of issues at professional boxing events. What does the S182 Guidance document say on reviews…anything helpful?

Para 11.20 is a good starting point:

“In deciding which of these powers to invoke, it is expected that licensing authorities should so far as possible seek to establish the cause or causes of the concerns that the representations identify. The remedial action taken should generally be directed at these causes and should always be no more than an appropriate and proportionate response to address the causes of concern that instigated the review.”

The police in their opening had stressed:

  • White-collar boxing events were the particular events which caused the issue;
  • There was no control over who received tickets;
  • It was a problematic audience who attended;
  • There were issues with the boxers;
  • Tickets were sold on the door so no assessment was made as to who was attending; and
  • Under 18 family members had attended.

So, that gave us something to go at, as we were offering to remove white-collar and amateur boxing.

This didn’t appease the police, but para 11.23 of the statutory Guidance helped us further:

“However, it will always be important that any detrimental financial impact that may result from a licensing authority’s decision is appropriate and proportionate to the promotion of the licensing objectives.”

The licensing sub-committee accepted our submissions that it would be disproportionate to remove the authorisation when there was no evidence that the professional boxing events had proved problematic previously. They did, however, give my clients a real lecture on the promotion of the licensing objectives and stressed the need to get things water-tight, moving forward.

There were some good learning points from this case:

  • Better and earlier communication with the police could have prevented the review;
  • Boxing is a real “hi-risk” event and should be preceded by thorough risk assessments. White-collar boxing and amateur boxing bring with them significant risks due to the identity of some of the boxers and their followers; and
  • Don’t let the tail wag the dog with door supervisors. Their anonymity when the problems happened at my clients’ venue was really worrying and indicative of a clear training need.

You really could not blame the police for bringing the review, as they are charged with ensuring that the crime and disorder licensing objective is promoted and that public safety is not compromised. I think that, with earlier instructions, we could have reached the conclusion we did by way of a minor variation, but the police were losing trust in the operator through lack of activity on its behalf.

The conditions attached to the licence were as follows:

  1. The premises licence holder shall not hold any white-collar or amateur boxing events. The only boxing/wrestling events which will be held at the premises will be professionally promoted events. The premises licence holder will give 28 days’ notice to the police of these events, ensuring that the full list of professional boxers fighting at the event is provided to the police.
  2. No persons under 18 to attend boxing events.
  3. No ticket sales on the day of the event.
  4. Tickets are to contain the name of the person attending the event.
  5. The DPS or a senior manager must be in attendance at boxing events.

Hopefully the warning of the committee chair will be “ringing” in my clients’ ears and we will not see further problems.