“ST1 Platinum”, in Stoke on Trent, was the last remaining lap-dancing venue in Staffordshire. In that sense it was arguably justified in marketing itself as Stoke’s “premier lap-dancing club”, since there were no others. The club’s website promoted its dedication to bringing gentleman visitors “the finest late night entertainment in the most luxurious atmosphere, surrounded by some of the UK’s most beautiful ladies”. What the marketing blurb left out was the darker activities carried out at the venue under the auspices of its Premises Licence and Sexual Entertainment Venue licence. A robust and detailed police investigation revealed a number of highly disturbing incidents at the club where vulnerable customers were targeted and criminally exploited under the watchful eye of the owner/operator.
For example, in July 2016 a Spanish lorry driver who attended the club and had a disagreement with dancers over money was, the police evidence suggested, taken to an area just out of sight of the CCTV and given a beating by staff and security at ST1 that left him hospitalised. The victim was seen hobbling and then crawling on all fours out of the club after the tendon on his knee was severed. His expensive watch had been taken from his wrist. In an unconnected incident on the very same night another very drunk customer was allowed into the venue where he drank some more and ended up soiling himself. He was dragged out of the club by the ankles and left to lie in a paralytic state on the pavement outside. Passers-by later called an ambulance. The next day he discovered that the club had charged his credit card nearly £3,000, money his family could ill-afford to lose. The victim later claimed that his drinks must have been spiked in the club. Toxicology reports later found ketamine in his hair follicles consistent with his claims.
The police alleged that this incident fitted a pattern of customers complaining of having their drinks spiked by the staff and dancers of ST1 and waking up with credit-card charges in the thousands of pounds which they had no memory of authorising. Some of these customers were particularly vulnerable. One was a young man with learning difficulties another a profoundly deaf teenager.
Examination of the CCTV system showed wholesale and flagrant breaches of the “no contact” and “no sexual simulation” conditions on the SEV licence. Fully nude dancers were seen riding customers and performing lesbian sex shows in front of them (including one particularly flexible artiste who performed a hand-stand routine). At times the owner/operator was seen watching over them. (He later claimed that he viewed the “no contact” condition as similar to that regulating basketball games, nice in theory but breaches were inevitable). Customers reported being taken into an off-camera “VIP” room where oral sex and hand-relief was performed by the dancers, for an extra fee. For the especially solvent customer, dancers were alleged to have decamped across the road to a nearby hotel for additional personal attention, so long as they paid the owner a commission before leaving the venue.
There were frequent allegations of drug dealing and drug taking among the customers and staff and cocaine-swab readings were always found to be very high. There were a number of incidents of violent disorder or assault associated with the club and its customers, more than would normally be expected of a lap-dancing venue.
Staffordshire police’s licensing officers, PS Karen Cooke and Lisa Roberts, carried out an exhaustive and detailed investigation. Statements were taken from wronged customers, corroborating evidence sought, and hundreds of hours of CCTV was viewed and the licence breaches catalogued.
Police applied to review the Premises Licence and after a lengthy contested hearing the licence was revoked by the licensing sub-committee of Stoke on Trent City Council in March 2017 who accepted the police allegations were made out. An appeal against that revocation was lodged to the magistrates’ court permitting the venue to continue trading. In addition, the police prosecuted the owner/operator in the criminal courts for breaching the conditions of his licences. Finally, the Police also objected to the annual renewal of ST1’s SEV licence on the unsurprising ground that the operator was “unsuitable” to hold such a licence. On the eve of the renewal hearing the owner offered to “surrender” his SEV licence. Nevertheless a hearing was held on 13 June 2017 when the Council determined to “cancel” the licence under paragraph 16 of Schedule 3 to the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982. There is no right to appeal a “cancelled” licence (whereas a right of appeal to the magistrates’ court would have existed if a renewal is refused on the “suitability” ground). The club has now withdrawn its ongoing appeal against the revocation of its premises licence and has now ceased trading. The last of Stoke’s lap dancing venues is now no more, although it is understood that other operators have been looking into opportunities to fill the vacuum.
The case is a good example of what tenacious and well-organised police licensing officers can achieve by using the many enforcement options available in the licensing and criminal jurisdictions to close a problematic lap-dancing venue and safeguard the public.
Gary Grant of Francis Taylor Building advised and represented Staffordshire Police throughout proceedings before the Council, instructed by Nicola Bell of Staffordshire Police’s Legal Services Department.