THE FUTURE of a Milford Haven pub which has been operating in the town centre since 1897 is hanging in the balance. The licensee of The Alma Hotel on Priory Street has been summoned to a review of the premises licence following an application by the police that it be shut.
In a lengthy police report to the Licensing Committee, which will be considered by councillors next week, Chief Inspector Blackmore said:
“It’s a poorly run public house. If this record of lock-ins, under-age drinking, violent crime, lack of supervision, serving of drunken customers, non-cooperation and support is not sufficient to merit revocation then it is difficult to see what is. After all, this is not a city centre night club, but a pub on a town side-street that is currently making a mockery of the licensing laws.”
The report says that Debbie Haughey’s bad management has led to 66 alleged incidents concerning The Alma, coming to the attention of the police over the last few years. The report claims that police were informed via a 999 call on October 6 in which “A caller reported 12 year old girls at the Alma on cocaine. There are reports of about eight to ten of them there. Caller goes on to say that he would rather see the place closed down than to go drinking there.”
The report goes on to say: “Unfortunately the police in Milford Haven were not made aware of the incident and therefore not in a position to verify the validity of the report.”
The report does not explain the reason for the failure to investigate such a grave allegation, but speaking to The Pembrokeshire Herald licensee Debbie Haughey expressed astonishment and anger at the allegations:
“I do not think that the way the incidents have been set out in the police report is accurate. Many of the incidents contained have nothing to do with the Alma. It is impossible that there would be children, around the age of my own two boys doing drugs on the premises. The accusation sickens me.”
Debbie Haughey went on to say: “For 17 years I was a youth and community worker, working to educate young people on drugs and alcohol issues. I find it highly offensive that I am accused of allowing incidents of drug use to go on in my premises. This is a moral issue and I will fight my corner against these unfounded accusations, which are based on hearsay and suspicion: this not just a matter of me losing my business, but my own and my children’s home.”
Despite the seriousness of the allegations against The Alma, there has been a groundswell of support from many in the community who believe that it would be a loss to the town if the pub closed. Regular customers of The Alma have sent 93 letters to Pembrokeshire County Council saying they believe that the accusations are ‘unjust and unfair’, and that ‘there is really not that much trouble in the pub at all’.
Next door neighbour, Maria Hicks, said: “It saddens and shocks me to hear of the recent playground-fabricated, embellished or even worse staged incidents. I am completely bemused that this nonsense along with so much more persecution toward Debbie Haughey, her family and the Alma pub that would appear to be quite obviously unfounded, and unchallenged by higher authority figures.”
Paul Gramby who has a clothes shop a few doors up from the pub wrote in his letter:
“Ms. Haughey operates her business professionally and with respect for the other neighbours and businesses in the area. I feel that if her licence were revoked it would be a blow to the town centre. Mrs Haughey is a business woman with community focus, and drive to help make the Milford Haven town centre a better place.”
Thomas Sinclair, editor of this newspaper has also written to the Licensing Committee to offer his view on the premises, as an adjoining property to his business premises. In his submission Mr Sinclair wrote:
“From time to time on a weekend there is trouble. There is certainly no evidence of any drug taking or other illegal activities in the bar. There is certainly not, in my view, underage drinking – and I have never seen 12 year olds snorting cocaine off the tables – something I think that I would have remembered. If I had I would have reported it in the paper.”
Local IPPG councillor Stephen Joseph was not so supportive, submitting: “I have concerns about the premises due to the stories I have heard about drug taking.”
Pembrokeshire County Council said: “On November 6, 2013, an application was made under Section 51 to the Licensing Act 2003 by Dyfed-Powys Police for a review of the Premises Licence held by S. A. Brain & Co. Ltd.
“On the December 5, 2013 this matter was brought before the Licensing Sub Committee to agree on an Administrative adjournment to today’s date. No other review has been received since the original grant.
“The application has been publicised and circulated in accordance with statute, which allows a 28-day period for any additional representations to be made. No representations have been received from other Responsible Authorities within the statutory period. As part of the application a notice has been on display outside the premises and as a result representations have been received from members of the public and the local County Councillor. All parties concerned have been invited to attend the meeting.”
The future of the premises will be decided on Wednesday, January 22.