A nightspot where a student died amid a queue crush was the subject of a complaint for allegedly “bending the rules” over numbers being admitted a year earlier, a court heard.

The Stonegate Pub Company is on trial at Teesside Crown Court on four charges alleging health and safety breaches at Missoula, where first year Durham University student Olivia Burt suffered fatal head injuries in a crowd surge in a queue outside the premises, late on Wednesday, February 7, 2018.

Jurors were told representatives of Stonegate were summoned to a licensing meeting in February the previous year, following a complaint from a rival venue in Durham’s Walkergate complex about the capacity potentially being exceeded at popular student nights, at Missoula, on a Wednesday.

The licensing authority, Durham County Council, called the meeting, which was attended by a Durham Police licensing officer and Missoula management, plus its security company, Phoenix.

Read more: LIVE: Trial continues over student's Durham nightclub death

Paul Gourley, who attended that meeting as operations manager at the time for Phoenix Security, told the court other premises at Walkergate had complained about Missoula supposedly “bending the rules” over crowd issues at the venue.

In cross-examination of Mr Gourley later, the court heard that the complaint was made by operators of nearby nightclub Loveshack, which no longer operates under that name.

Mr Gourley said a pre-meeting was staged at which a queue management plan and crowd admissions policy was put in place by himself and the Missoula manager.

It appeared to satisfy others present at the subsequent licensing meeting, subject of an observational visit by all parties at that week's Wednesday student event at Missoula, in February 2017.

The court heard Mr Gourley contacted his line manager warning that the police would, “no doubt” be, “all over the venue” the following night, so he decided to attend himself.

During that event there was a barrier collapse, due to a surge of queueing students, but no-one was injured.

As the venue was full, Mr Gourley said he took the decision to disperse those still queueing.

He said he formed the opinion from feedback from others present that the police were, “keen for Missoula to fail”.

But he said as there were no other issues for the remainder of the night the police community support officer present seemed happy with the controls in place.

Read more: Trial of Stonegate for death of Durham University student Olivia Burt

Further adjustments were then made which were in place by the fateful night of Ms Burt’s death a year later and Mr Gourley was unaware of any subsequent changes in policy by that time.

The Northern Echo: Missoula was the subject of a complaint for allegedly “bending the rules”, Durham Crown Court heardMissoula was the subject of a complaint for allegedly “bending the rules”, Durham Crown Court heard (Image: THE NORTHERN ECHO)

In re-examination by prosecution counsel, Jamie Hill KC, Mr Gourley was asked if there had been a risk assessment of black metal barriers in the beer garden at the premises.

He said he did not regard that as part of his responsibilities.

Mr Gourley said the premises manager told the licensing meeting of February 2017 that people would queue alongside the metal barriers in the beer garden.

He said he had no input into the part of the plan relating to those barriers, but he understood they were fixed to the floor, as he had never seen them move.

Meanwhile, while contesting the health and safety allegations, Stonegate issued a statement expressing its “deepest sympathies” to the family and friends of Ms Burt.

The statement read: “Olivia’s death was a tragic incident.

"Stonegate expresses its deepest sympathies to Olivia’s family and friends, who have suffered the most terrible loss.

“Stonegate respectfully denies that it breached any of its health and safety duties in connection with the tragic events of February 7, 2018.

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"We are, therefore, defending the charges brought by Durham County Council.

"In no way does this diminish the immense sadness and regret Stonegate feels at Olivia’s passing.”

The trial continues tomorrow (Wed June 21).