Italian restaurant says sorry over lockdown party
A well-known restaurant in Wakefield has lost its licence to serve alcohol for three months, following a boozy afternoon which was said to violate lockdown restrictions earlier this year.
[email protected], on Leeds Road, was given an on-the-spot £100 fine after more than 20 people were seen drinking, dancing and "partying in close proximity to each other" at the premises on May 25, despite lockdown restrictions around pubs and restaurants not being lifted until well over a month later.
Representations from the police said owner, one Mr Karimi showed a disregard for lockdown rules and public safety, and that he failed to implement social distancing.
Mr Karimi's representative told the meeting he was "apologising profusely" to those involved with the case, and had promised the restaurant had since introduced meticulous Covid-related social distancing and hygiene measures.
Following a meeting of Wakefield Council's licensing committee, which could have seen the restaurant lose its licence altogether, it was decided to suspend the licence for three months.
Representing West Yorkshire Police, Andrew Garthwaite told the meeting: "On May 25, what was promoted was something under ordinary circumstances may well have been fine. But these are not ordinary circumstances, we are in the middle of a global pandemic.
"The promotion of the event, you will see the Facebook advert that tells people to get their takeaway and 'get a pint or two while you wait'.
"CCTV shows a gentle increase of individuals." He added. "One could be forgiven for thinking it's something that took place in 2019 bank holiday. Social distancing was completely out of the window, there seems to be a gentleman coming out of the door, clapping his hands to the music.
"A gentleman in blue T-shirt moving towards the table - the manner of his walk may have been in a dance style - who knows?"
He added that the event lasted from 4pm to when police arrived at 8.20pm.
"What steps did Mr Karimi do to control what was going on?" he said. "There appears to be sufficient members of staff employed, who could have been deployed to maintain social distancing. There is no attempt to keep people distanced.
"On May 25, lockdown restrictions are still in place. Even general shops, other than those selling food are not allowed to be open at this point.
"It shouldn't take a police officer, licensing officer or sub committee hearing for him to know this shouldn't take place.
"There is no suggestion at this stage that Wakefield will be subject to local lockdown, the message this sends out to other licensees is important. If the committee finds this acceptable, the ability to enforce local or national lockdowns in future will be undermined."
Council officer Paul Dean added: "It's quite clear that Mr Karimi has clearly known the government's lockdown measures that weren't lifted until July 4. He showed blatant disregard to public safety.
"The footage shows the deception that unfolded on the day. Facebook videos show people dancing, singing and having a nice time during the lockdown measures."
Paddy Whur, representing Mr Karimi, said: "Mr Karimi has asked me to apologise profusely to everyone who has been involved in these proceedings. There is from the very outset a full, sincere and heartfelt apology from Mr Karimi.
"Up until now he has never faced a review of a premises licence, he has never lost a premises licence. He has also invested a huge amount of money in the fabric and employment of people in entertainment venues in Wakefield.
"His venues are of the highest quality - they are family-friendly, female-friendly and well-respected locally. If I thought I would be dealing with these proceedings, I never thought I would be dealing with him or these premises.
He added that on the afternoon, there were eight people working in the takeaway, and six people working in the main premises - whereas on a normal day there would have been 20 staff in the main building.
On the evidence that Mr Karimi had promoted the event beforehand, Mr Whur added: "At this time in lockdown, there was a website advertising places throughout the country where people could get a pint and take it away from the premises.
"The advert is clear - he tried to set up something others were doing across the country that he thought would be permissible. The advert says the 'two metre rule applies and if there is a queue, we might entertain you with some tunes.'
"The police representative says there was a DJ and dancing advertised - that wasn't the case - there wasn't a DJ and dancing advertised.
"A chronically poor thought process which Mr Karimi thought he could do things like this, but it was taken from an advertisement that other people were doing across the country. He thought that he could control it properly.
"When (the police) had attended and it had gone wrong, Mr Karimi managed to wrap this up within four minutes.
He added funds from the event had gone to to Wakefield Hospice, as this was somewhere he had worked with previously.
Mr Whur went on to claim that, since May 25, there had been "no repetition" of the event, adding extra staff, a reduced capacity in the restaurant and extensive cleaning regime had been introduced for the restaurant.
"You will not find a better Covid-19 safe environment in Wakefield," he added.
"To put the premises at risk of not being able to trade is not a good thing at the moment. Wakefield is going to lose some of its operators. It's getting worse rather than better. These premises will not go by the wayside.
Mr Garthwaite responded: "We do need to be forward looking - this is not a situation that has gone away - it is the issue of Covid-19 is likely to be an ongoing problem for some time.
"There has been a degree of relaxation, but it does not draw away from the ever present risk of local and national lockdown.
"If this matter raises its head again, how can the licensing objectives be held up for others?"
In closing remarks, Mr Whur said: "It would not be right to use these proceedings as a hammer to get home a point to the rest, of what might happen in the future should regulations tighten up again."
Following an hour long discussion in private among committee members, council legal officer Paul Jaques read out the verdict.
He said: "(Committee members) are appalled at the events of May 25, and the failures by Mr Karimi to cease the event until the intervention of West Yorkshire Police.
"They have determined a suspension of the premises licence for three months will be in place. This decision will take effect within 21 days."
Following the decision, Mr Karimi said in a statement: “We would like to thank the licensing authorities for listening to us today when reviewing the unfortunate situation which arose in May. Most importantly we apologised in full.
“We set off with the best intentions of donating all the proceeds from the day to local charities.
“Our Facebook post advised people that we would be providing takeaway drinks and food but we made it clear that people should not hang around and the two metre rule would apply. We also stated that it was not an invitation for a social gathering.
“The people that remained, out of all those we served on the day, should have been moved on and we apologise this did not happen. We can assure you that we have learnt our lesson and this will not happen again."