Walsall social club stripped of its licence over Covid breaches

A Walsall social club where police were told to “f*** off” by drunken people barricaded inside has been stripped of its licence.

Walsall Wood Football Club, in Lichfield Road, Walsall. Photo: Google
Walsall Wood Football Club, in Lichfield Road, Walsall. Photo: Google

Licensing chiefs revoked the Walsall Wood FC and Social Club’s certificate following a hearing on Tuesday over concerns it had put public safety at risk through several alleged Covid breaches.

The committee heard that, on December 5 last year, “substantial” police resources were called to the venue off Lichfield Road following reports people were inside.

Officers tried to get them to unlock the door but were greeted with abuse.

They also said when they spoke to the club chairman Justin Hodgin at his home, he said he did not have keys to get inside, could not locate other key-holders and did not go to the venue to see what was happening.

Eventually, officers used angle grinders to cut their way inside, where 19 people – including some who had travelled from Liverpool and Birmingham – were issued with fixed penalty notices.

West Midlands Police, which called for the licensing review, also raised concerns about alleged Covid breaches on April 5 and 10 – where reports of people drinking inside during lockdown were received – and a lack of social distancing at a football match in October.

As part of their evidence, police said CCTV footage from April and a computer hard drive had gone missing.

Both Mr Hodgin, and his lawyer Mahan Manu, said the club was run as a charity for the benefit of thousands in the community.

They also said lessons had been learned since the incidents and changes implemented, such as securing the CCTV system.

Bunker

Regarding the December 5 incident, Birmingham-based licensing police officer Pc Ben Reader said: “We were called by the Walsall team at the football club.

“They could clearly see people inside there, they were making inquiries about who was inside and they were speaking to the chairman.

“Officers there were told to “f*** off”, there were people chanting inside, they were singing, music was being turned up and down.

“There was almost an arrogance of the people inside that they were untouchable. They were barricaded in a bunker, for want of a better term.

“They had a real level of comfort being inside and I think they expected the police officers outside would get bored and leave.”

Officers working on Operation Reliant were called while specialist cutting equipment was also brought out. Police dogs were also on standby at the scene.

Pc Reader added: “We didn’t know what we were dealing with. We believed we had a hostile crowd from the language they were using. We’d got an unknown number of persons inside.

“For safety, we needed to make sure we’d got enough officers to prevent a potentially hostile crowd from turning on us when we had forced entry.

“They were extremely intoxicated and we’d got sufficient numbers. If we hadn’t, there may have been a different outcome.”

Mr Manu said: “Events on the April 10 suggested that individuals were inside the club. Steps were taken and there were no further repeats of any nature up until December 5 – some eight months later.

Accepted

“I wouldn’t say it was a small number, there were 19 of them involved, but it wasn’t as large as many groups that have been found congregating together at venues.

“Yes, more could have been done by the club on that particular night. That has been accepted now.

“Given the position we are in with Covid and the knock on effect it has had on hospitality, and although it’s not a hospitality venue as such, it is a venue that operates to bring together the community.

“I would ask that the actions of a few do not hinder the benefit of thousands who use the club as members.”

The committee said the reports of breaches on April 5 and in October were not substantiated.

But they said the incidents on April 10 and December 5 had undermined public safety and the prevention of crime and disorder objectives.

After the meeting, committee chairman Councillor Suky Samra said: “We will not tolerate repeated Covid breaches that are putting people in danger and a total disregard for public safety as in this case and in the middle of a pandemic.

“The management of these premises committed several Covid breaches and there was a total failure in their dereliction of duty.

“Time and resources were redirected from more pressing needs to deal with the club’s breaches.

“The club certificate was therefore revoked. We hope this sends a strong message to others that continued breaches will result with premises being bought before the licensing committee.

“Revocation is always the last resort but in this case the committee felt it was the only option due to the seriousness of the offences.”

Top Stories

More from the Express & Star

UK & International News