A pub described by police as ‘central to the drugs trade’ in Ellesmere Port has been closed by a court for eight weeks.
Cheshire Constabulary applied for a closure order for the Station Hotel on Station Road less than a week after two men were found to be in possession of drugs and arrested during a licensing visit by officers on August 7.
At a hearing at Chester Magistrates Court today (Tuesday, August 18), magistrates ordered the closure of the pub until midnight on October 12.
Prosecutor Elizabeth Heavey said that in a 12-month period there had been 14 violent incidents at the Station Hotel reported to police, who had also received 11 pieces of intelligence in relation to drugs at the premises, which are owned and managed by Gail Bleasdale.
PC Graeme Morrison, from the Ellesmere Port and Neston Local Policing Unit, said they found a hole which had been punched in the plasterboard of one of the male toilet cubicles, from which empty bags containing traces of white powder were recovered, on August 7.
“There were quite blatant and obvious signs of drug use in the male toilets that I went in,” he said.
Stephen Ferns, defending, suggested to PC Morrison that Ms Bleasdale and her staff of four have been ‘successful’ in handling incidents and ejecting patrons themselves.
Refuting this, PC Morrison said: “It is correct that this pub has been at the centre of violent incidents which have spilled out on to the streets of the community and it is also apparent to me that it is central to the drugs trade in Ellesmere Port.”
Ms Bleasdale, who denied being aware of any drug-taking on the premises, told the court that the pub’s finances are in ‘dire straits’ and that she has not been able to pay herself a salary for 18 months.
She explained that is why the CCTV – the lack of which she attributed to ‘letting the pub down’ – has not been in use for the past six months, but that her son Chester Pitt has now offered to cover the costs of its re-installation.
Ms Bleasdale, 48, also denied that her customers get more drunk than they would in other pubs and explained that their ‘trade policy’ is ‘not to wait for fights to kick off’ but calm customers down first.
Describing the impact of a closure order as ‘devastating’, Ms Bleasdale said she held a meeting with her staff last week at which strategies were agreed, including a new toilet monitoring system and taking her employees along with her to monthly Pubwatch meetings to gain an insight into problems facing other pubs.
Mr Pitt and bar staff Leanne Thompson and Samantha Owen also gave evidence at the hearing.
All told the court that they were unaware of drugs being taken on the premises.
Ms Thompson branded the intelligence that drugs were being taken there ‘nonsense’ and said she ‘would not put up with it’.
Granting the order, magistrate Susan Campbell said: “We are satisfied that the use of these premises has resulted in disorder and criminal behaviour.”
It will be illegal for anyone other than Ms Bleasdale, Mr Pitt and the CCTV installation workers to enter the premises between now and October 12.
Cheshire West and Chester Council will be conducting their own review of the pub’s licence within the next 10 working days.
The Station Hotel team posted on Facebook shortly after the hearing that the result was ‘not great but it’s still not the end’ and thanked patrons for their ‘unwavering loyalty’.
The post added: “We are all without an income but pulling together as a team to combat the closure and to get one of Westminster’s pubs back up and running.
“It’s been a hard day and unfortunately we didn’t get the result we wanted.”