A STREET brawl between armed rival football fans in front of terrified lunchtime onlookers caused a Darlington pub to have its licence suspended.

Masked men in black carrying bottles and weapons like snooker balls and cues were seen fighting in the town centre, a licensing meeting today (March 17) heard.

Numerous 999 calls reported a group of more than 40 in the melee, with people bloodied, punched and kicked in the head, said Sergeant Caroline Dickenson from Durham Police.

The Northern Echo: Fighting erupted in Darlington town centre between rival football fans. Picture: Twitter.Fighting erupted in Darlington town centre between rival football fans. Picture: Twitter.

She said: "This violent incident has taken place in Darlington town centre on a busy Saturday dinner time whilst families, elderly and others were out enjoying the day and going about their daily business."

The fracas erupted on Skinnergate just after 12 noon on Saturday, February 12 when Darlington were about to play Chester.

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Councillors heard of the "serious large-scale disorder" as they considered what to do with the licence of the nearby George pub, which was linked to the violence.

The Northern Echo: Fighting erupted in Darlington town centre between rival football fans. Picture: Twitter.Fighting erupted in Darlington town centre between rival football fans. Picture: Twitter.

Darlington Borough Council licensing manager Colin Dobson said: "A group of Darlington football supporters gathered in the George and prepared for what appeared to be an organised fight."

Sgt Dickenson said pub CCTV showed "risk supporters" coming in, drinking and "limbering up for a fight".

She said one fan took two pool balls from the pool table, put them into his pocket and showed them to his mates.

She added they took face coverings and balaclavas from a carrier bag and put them on in clear sight of the bar.

21 supporters left the pub, some masked, some carrying empty glasses, and walked up Skinnergate where the ruckus broke out.

The group were "welcomed back into the bar" minutes later, said Sgt Dickenson.

She said the pub provided CCTV from just one camera until handing over more six days later, hindering the investigation.

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The officer said CID with Cheshire Police are investigating the violent disorder, which can carry up to five years' imprisonment, and expect to make "a number of arrests".

The Northern Echo: The George, Darlington Picture: SARAH CALDECOTTThe George, Darlington Picture: SARAH CALDECOTT

The George since had its alcohol licence suspended, and the police attributed the pub's failings to poor management.

Licence holder George Sowerby was removed from the licence "almost immediately" by landlord Admiral Taverns, which police agreed would eradicate the problem.

"This has now been terminated and he is no longer anything to do with the George public house," said Sgt Dickenson.

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Mr Dobson said Mr Sowerby indicated he had surrendered the licence and given up the premises.

Samantha Banks, Admiral Taverns area manager, said: "We immediately stepped in and spoke to Mr Sowerby.

"In our view this was an out-and-out breach of not only the Licensing Act and the premises licence but also our agreement with him."

The company immediately sought to bring the premises licence back to them and, after discussions with the tenant, decided on an agreed surrender of the lease.

The firm, which holds five sites in Darlington town centre, accepted licence conditions on door staff, checks and customers carrying containers on match days.

Ms Banks said they were upgrading CCTV, along with door staff, a "huge amount of staff training" and looking at investment and the pub's future.

She said she would check the pub regularly and keep in touch with licensing and the police.

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Committee chairman Cllr Brian Jones said: "Admiral Taverns have realised just how serious this last incident was.

"Clearly we don't want it happening in Darlington again.

"It was quite frightening for people who were walking in the street at Skinnergate minding their own business."

The committee agreed to reinstate the licence. New tenants are to be chosen before the pub can open again.


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