Following a heavily contested hearing before Ealing’s licensing sub-committee on 21 June 2018 the Council has refused to renew the Sex Entertainment Venue (SEV) Licence of LA Confidential, the London Borough’s only remaining lap-dancing club. The case has attracted national media interest.
LA Confidential has operated for some 11 years. In January 2018 an anonymous letter was sent to the licensing authority by a former dancer at the club. She complained of breaches of the dancers’ code of conduct, drug-taking, financial exploitation of dancers by the management, sexual acts taking place between dancers and customers out of view of the CCTV, and complicity by the door security who took bribes to turn a blind-eye.
Following on from this complaint Ealing’s licensing officer, Bob Dear, obtained CCTV footage from the venue. The footage revealed that over the four nights where CCTV was provided, there was wholesale and flagrant breaches of the SEV and premises licences. The one-metre rule, requiring dancers to stand at least a metre way from customers, was being breached by “about one-metre”. Contrary to the code of conduct, dancers were simulating sex with customers and grinding their bodies into customers groins. Several dancers were witnessed behaving in the same manner. The management and door-security appeared to be complicit and did nothing to stop the dancers.
As a result, two trading standards officers visited LA Confidential in April 2018 as “mystery shoppers” to investigate the allegations. Their evidence confirmed previous reports. Dancers not only made full physical contact with the officers but invited them to perform oral sex on them and “for £300” made it clear they would go back to the officers’ hotel room with them for sex.
At first the venue sought to argue the breaches were down to one rogue temporary manager who had been dismissed. But when it was pointed out that the breaches occurred both before and after this manager’s employment at the venue, the premises owners/management accepted culpability for the breaches and requested to transfer the SEV licence to another company. Investigations revealed this new company to be part of the same group of companies as the existing licence holder and there was a cross-over of persons with financial and managerial interests between the old and the new. In other words the transfer did not represent a fresh-start but “a shuffling of the deckchairs on the Titanic”.
The licensing authority as a responsible authority objected to the annual renewal of the SEV licence and the transfer on the principal ground that the holder of the licence and the transferee were effectively the same entity and both were unsuitable to hold such a licence given the history of breaches which had turned the venue into a “quasi-brothel”. These breaches included breaches of conditions on the associated Premises Licence held under the Licensing Act 2003 imposed following a summary review held in July 2017.
The licensing authority was supported by the Metropolitan Police and resident representatives. Residents had also asked in their representations for the SEV renewal to be refused on the additional ground that the character of the locality in Ealing Town Centre was no longer suitable for a lap-dancing venue given the recent residential development in the area but this ground was rejected by the sub-committee without needing to hear evidence on the point from the operator.
Following a lengthy hearing the sub-committee decided to refuse to renew LA Confidential’s SEV licence on the grounds of the unsuitability of the applicant. Full written reasons are to follow. A further review of the Premises Licence is expected to take place in July.
Gary Grant and Leo Charalambides, both of Francis Taylor Building, represented the Licensing Authority (instructed by Alison Luff) and Metropolitan Police (instructed by Sally Gilchrist) respectively.