Tougher conditions imposed on Islington Sports Bar and Grill after Covid breaches

Islington Sports Bar & Grill,

Islington Sports Bar & Grill in Holloway Road - Credit: BBC news wire service

Tougher conditions have been imposed on an Islington bar popular with Arsenal fans, after police found people drinking there after hours and a series of breaches of Covid regulations.

The licence review at the Islington Sports Bar and Grill in Holloway Road, close to the Emirates Stadium, was prompted by a request by the police.

Police lawyer Ryan Dowling told the licensing committee: “There were a series of incidents involving effectively non-compliance of not only licence conditions but also Covid regulations.

“This is the most deadly pandemic in history. It’s pretty important these conditions are complied with.”

The month after the first national lockdown kicked in on 26 March 2020, police reported a “lack of social distancing” at the bar, he said, followed by other instances in July and August.

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There was a meeting in September with the manager, who was given advice on how to avoid problems.

Mr Dowling said on April 15, 2021, a “small scuffle of around eight people in a fight at the premises was a taste of things to come”.

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The following month, on the same day as management met Islington Council staff to discuss extra conditions, there was “the most serious incident ” with “large-scale disorder” at the front of the bar.

Mr Dowling added: “It involved drunken patrons falling into the busy road, it involved females and males brawling with one another at the front of the premises and, perhaps most importantly, the staff members at the premises appeared pretty impotent in dealing with the actual problems that were occurring that night.

“Indeed the police were not called by staff members. They were called by a member of the public following the disarray.”

The police visited on May 18 at about 2.30am and found several people drinking “long past its licensing hours”.

On May 25, another serious incident occurred, with “very much a lack of social distancing, very much a lack of control”, according to Dowling.

Police were called to help 40 or more drunk people to leave at the end of the evening, and Mr Dowling said they spotted “very full drinks” which suggested they were served recently.

Terrie Lane from the council’s licensing team said: “There is a long history of non-compliance as well as Covid contraventions as well.”

Resident Dan Slater told the licensing committee police had also discovered a lock-in while they were just walking past the door: “This is while the rest of us in Islington and across the country were staying home to protect the NHS and to save lives. We’ll never know how many other times this happened when the police weren’t walking past.”

But regular customer Ian Pogue said: “On no occasion have I witnessed anything that I consider to be an issue of public safety.”

He added: “I have not found a place that was more strict [in following Covid rules].”

Customers’ temperature was taken and they were told to sit down, with table service only.

Former police officer Donald Elliot, who specialised in public order, also spoke up for the bar.

He lives nearby and said he saw customers following the rules, and “well organised fans”, adding: “During Euro 2020 there was a fantastic supporting crowd in there with absolutely no trouble.”

Health worker Ashley Starmer has visited the bar after work with A&E staff.

He said the adherence to Covid rules “has been second to none, and we commented as colleagues about how well they followed the procedures”.

Philip Somarakis, the bar’s lawyer, explained it had hired an independent licensing consultant who made unannounced visits and drew up recommendations to improve things.

The designated premises supervisor John Phelan told the committee about improvements they’ve brought in.

“We’ve put some more management structures in place, starting on dispersal policy – all staff been trained and are very clear on that,” he said.

He added: “The night we had issues with the protest down at the Emirates Stadium, I don’t think anyone was prepared for that. We had people with food and drink from other establishments and tried to move them on.”

Islington’s licensing committee (12 August) decided to remove designated premises supervisor John Phelan.

It also said there should be a minimum of two Security Industry Authority door staff on Friday and Saturday nights, on Arsenal match days and when the Emirates stadium is screening events.

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