Licence opposed for overcrowding

A bar owner fighting to keep his licence believed he was targeted by police because of his opposition to stricter alcohol laws, the Dunedin district licence committee heard.

The committee yesterday heard arguments after the licence for the Carousel bar in Stuart St was opposed over the ''suitability'' of its operator, John Devereux, in relation to his response to overcrowding and an assault on the premises.

Alcohol harm reduction officer Sergeant Ian Paulin said police taking action over Carousel exceeding its maximum occupancy of 50 people had nothing to do with Mr Devereux's submission on the council's local alcohol policy (LAP) last year and was instead about ''public safety''.

''It's something we take extremely seriously, especially if we are advised of a limit at a premises and find that they have exceeded it.

''If there was a fire and someone died with us knowing a premises' [occupancy limit] was being exceeded and we sat on that information, we would be castigated by the national press,'' Sgt Paulin said.

Visiting police had found the bar's maximum occupancy was exceeded multiple times in December, including one occasion where it was estimated between 120 and 150 people were at the bar.

Sgt Paulin also brought up a December 4 incident where an intoxicated man assaulted two staff members as he was being kicked out of the bar.

''He was assessed by police that night as extremely intoxicated. He urinated in his own trousers, defecated in his trousers when he was arrested; he was given a shower at the police station.''

Following the incident, Mr Devereux did not attend a meeting to discuss tit, which Sgt Paulin said was unusual.

Mr Devereux accepted he was in the wrong to have regularly exceeded maximum occupancy levels - which were in place because there was only one exit - since the bar was established in 2006.

However, he felt his practices were supported by the actions of police, who previously had no issue over the numbers of people in the bar.

''The impression I had, which I have had since the bar started, was that regulatory agencies were applying a common sense approach to numbers and that nobody regarded 50 as a precise limit.''

He disputed Sgt Paulin's suggestion that the man involved in the December 4 incident was ''intoxicated'', instead pointing to the comments of a police officer on the night who indicated who could be on ''bad BZP''.

The reason he did not attend the meeting was because he had wanted support from a lawyer and was concerned to find on the morning of the meeting occupancy numbers - and not just the intoxication incident - would also be up for discussion.

In response to Sgt Paulin asking why Mr Devereux contacted Otago coastal area commander Inspector Jason Guthrie saying he was concerned police were going to shut the bar down, he said: ''I am basing it on all of a sudden I had a huge amount of tension from authorities that seemed to come out of nowhere.''

When questioned by committee chairman Colin Weatherall and committee member Dunedin City councillor Andrew Noone, he said he was working on a plan to install another exit.

''All my efforts are going to fixing the problem. If I can't fix the problem, I won't be here very long.''

In the meantime, the bar would stick to the 50-person limit.

The committee reserved its decision.

vaughan.elder@odt.co.nz

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