Richard Youle, local democracy reporter
A council has revoked the licence of the owner of a pub that breached Covid-19 regulations.
The Santa Clara pub in St Clears in Carmarthenshire was found to have breached rules last March and again in October.
The owner pleaded with Carmarthenshire councillors not to revoke his licence, claiming the venue had done more good than bad and that its name had been “dragged through the trenches”.
Alan David Reynolds was speaking at a licensing sub-committee about the Santa Clara pub in St Clears, which is run by another person – Richard Pearce.
It was Mr Pearce, not Mr Reynolds, who had been present when the offences took place. But after listening to evidence, the sub-committee decided to revoke Mr and Mrs Reynolds’s premises licence.
In a statement after the hearing, sub-committee chairman, Cllr Irfon Jones, said this course of action was a last resort which had followed warnings and a previous licence review.
He added: “Although the licence holders were not at the premises when these criminal offences occurred, they are responsible under the Licensing Act for the premises.”
The sub-committee was told that Mr Pearce appeared to be intoxicated when a Dyfed-Powys Police officer and Trading Standards officer attended the Santa Clara at around 8.45pm on October 8.
Their report said 15 to 20 people were sitting in front of the bar area watching a football match, with no social distancing.
It said no masks were worn by staff or by customers going to the toilet, and that a customer went up to the bar for a drink while the officers were present.
According to the report, Mr Pearce said “it’s hard to control all the Covid stuff when the football is on”.
A closure notice was subsequently issued, requiring the pub to shut for two weeks.
The evidence also referred back to the first lockdown when police officers visited the Santa Clara in quick succession on March 29 to discover customers drinking on both occasions when the pub should have been closed.
Their March visit was prompted by a tip-off which claimed that text messages had been sent out from the Santa Clara to regular clients informing them to come in through the back door that day between 3pm and 7pm.
Dyfed-Powys Police initially requested the suspension of the premises licence for three months and the removal of Mr Pearce as the designated premises supervisor. But the force softened its approach between the end of March and August 18, when the review hearing took place, because of the changing regulations and the fact that no further breaches at the Santa Clara had been reported.
At the August 18 hearing, the licensing sub-committee agreed to the police’s recommendations, meaning the licence was not suspended and that Mr Pearce remained in charge, but with additional licensing conditions.
But following the October 8 breaches, Dyfed-Powys Police, Trading Standards, and the council’s licensing department all recommended that the licence should be revoked.
Trading Standards manager Roger Edmunds said: “He (Mr Pearce) seems to have little regard for the law or his responsibility as a designated premises supervisor.
“This is a matter of public health and the protection of public health.”
Licensing officer Emyr Jones said Mr Reynolds appeared incapable of exercising effective control over the premises or Mr Pearce, who was also rapped for holding an unlicensed lottery in late August.
Mr Jones said that Mr Pearce had also been required to complete a qualification, but had not done so at the time of the October 8 visit by the authorities.
In his evidence, Mr Reynolds said Mr Pearce was responsible for the day-to-day running of the pub and had done a “terrific job” over the last four years in bringing it back to life.
“He’s one in a million,” said Mr Reynolds. “When you meet him, you never forget him.”
He said Mr Pearce had not fulfilled his duties on the evening of October 8 and that he had “accepted full responsibility for his crimes”.
Mr Reynolds said he had visited the pub on the evening in question at around 6.30pm. He said seven customers were present, that social distancing was appropriate, and that Mr Pearce was providing a table service.
Mr Reynolds said he warned Mr Pearce about keeping to the regulations as a football match was on television later that evening.
“There was not any more I could do that night,” he said.
Mr Reynolds said the pub had been in his family for 53 years and that for 52 of them there had been no trouble or disturbance.
The Santa Clara, he said, had raised more than £100,000 for charities and local clubs and groups and been a “respectful, welcoming and homely place” for all ages.
He added: “There has been more good in the last 53 years than bad.”
Mr Reynolds said he had told Mr Pearce to “wise up” after the breaches earlier in 2020 and had spent £3,000 on CCTV cameras, which allowed him to see what was going on in the pub at any time.
He said he lived around 60 yards away and visited the pub sometimes three times a week, sometimes once a fortnight.
Mr Reynolds added that he was fully aware of the spread of the coronavirus – and had contracted it himself- and that his family owed a lot to the NHS over the years.
Under questioning from the council’s legal officer, Robert Edgecombe, Mr Reynolds said there was nothing in writing that would give him the power to evict Mr Pearce but that he would evict him if it was required to keep the pub open.
“The Santa Clara name has been dragged through the trenches, and my name as well, and it does not deserve it for what it has done in the past,” he said.
Cllr Andre McPherson asked Mr Reynolds why he still had Mr Pearce running the pub.
Mr Reynolds reiterated that he felt Mr Pearce had done a good job.
“I would not wish a better person to be behind the bar,” he said. “He brought the life and soul back to the pub.”
Committee member Tyssul Evans suggested that Mr Reynolds was “washing his hands” of his own responsibility, and asked if he disagreed with any of the evidence put by the authorities.
“Their evidence is right,” said Mr Reynolds.
“I’m washing my hands with the criminal offences that occurred there. I’m trying to save the life of the Santa Clara. I was in no control of what was going on there.”
In the statement after the meeting, Cllr Jones said: “Despite a previous licence review and a number of warnings from the police and licensing officers, the designated premises supervisor for the Santa Clara pub continued to breach licensing laws and the coronavirus regulations including serving alcohol from the premises when it should have been closed.
“Licences are there for a reason and that is to ensure that the operation of a premises promotes the licence objectives of preventing crime and disorder, public safety, preventing public nuisance and protecting children from harm.
“Unfortunately at the Santa Clara this was not happening, and the criminal offences committed were a direct result of poor management by the designated premises supervisor and premises licence holder.”