A BID for an alcohol sales licence has failed following police complaints of an "illegal bar" trading in Covid restricted periods.

A licensing application was made for Only Booze and Horses at Warden Lodge, Durham Road, Wheatley Hill.

It was requested for the premises to supply alcohol from 10am to 12.30am and outdoor refreshments from 11pm to 12.30am.

Up to 120 people, only with pre-issued tickets, would be allowed at the venue.

Durham Police's objections to the application were detailed in a council report.

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Sergeant Caroline Dickenson from the force's licensed economy team wrote: "Durham Constabulary have dealt with a number of reports and are in receipt of numerous complaints regarding Warden Lodge over the past couple of years based around unlicensed activity, Covid breaches, noise and criminal damage.

"All of the incidents and complaints stem from allegations by local residents of an illegal bar trading at Warden Lodge during Covid restricted periods."

She detailed calls to police in July and December 2020, January, February and April 2021.

She said these were "generally relating to illegal gatherings in breach of covid regulations, unlicensed activity at a self-made bar and noise issues as well as an outbuilding fire at the premises on January 16, 2021".

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She said the force also had 13 reports of an illegal bar, gatherings and breaching Covid regulations between June 2020 and April 2021 on their intelligence system.

She told how officers could not get in because of locked gates and received no answer from the buzzer on December 30, 2020.

And on January 15, 2021, "they discovered a gathering at the premises due to a wake resulting in all persons given verbal warnings".

The next day officers captured body-worn video footage of a bar and a referral was made to the council's licensing enforcement for suspected unlicensed activity.

Four people were reported for Covid breaches on April 2, "likely a result of the previous unheeded verbal warnings at the gathering in January".

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Sgt Dickenson also raised concerns about lighting, CCTV, staffing and walkways in a wooded area, potential public safety risks and security measures.

She added the area was "greater than that of most public houses" with one entry gate very close to the A181.

She said: "Patrons must behave both on site and when leaving to reduce alcohol-fuelled disorder and must be safe both on site and especially when leaving the site entrance, so close to a busy poorly lit main road."

She argued maximum capacity of 120 "friends, family and locals" would be difficult to control or enforce.

She said there was no planning permission for the business use and they also had to consider potential problems from uninvited or underage visitors.

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She agreed with the applicant that notice was given of five temporary events which passed without incident.

"However, many other incidents and reports have occurred prior [to] this, with strong suggestion that the applicant and patrons went against both licensing laws and Covid regulations," she added.

Durham County Council's licensing committee met at County Hall to decide the application.

Much of the hearing was held in private, but the decision was given in public.

The Northern Echo: Cllr Jan Blakey. Picture: Durham County Council.Cllr Jan Blakey. Picture: Durham County Council.

Councillor Jan Blakey, chairing the committee, said: "We've made the decision after long and hard debate.

"We refuse to grant the application.

"That is on the grounds of crime and disorder, public safety and the protection of children from harm."

The applicant has the right to appeal to the magistrates' court.