A landlady who has been warned her pub could lose its license after reports of violence, drug incidents and breaches of pandemic rules says the situation has been blown out of proportion and feels like her pub is being unfairly compared to the Wild West.
Police say they have received 35 incidents at the Roebuck Inn on Burnley Road East in Rossendale, near Bury, since early 2020. It also has the second-highest recorded number of incidents in the area during the past year.
Following the reports, licensee Marie Burke now awaits a premises license review by Rossendale Council’s Licensing Committee on April 26. Mrs Burke, who took over the pub in February 2020, accepts she has made some mistakes but says she believes the criticism has been unfair and exaggerated.
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“Some of the comments make the pub sound like it’s the gunfight at the OK Corral,” Mrs Burke told Lancs Live, referring to America’s lawless history and the 1881 Tombstone shootout. She added: “I took on the pub three or four weeks before the pandemic and before all the restrictions came. This is my first pub so I’ve been learning the trade. In the past, I was a carer.”
The licensing review covers a series of reported incidents over a two-year period. Lancashire Police were called to one reported ‘very aggressive’ fight where they noted the landlady was ‘struggling to calm the situation’. There have also been reports of breaches on Covid restrictions, including a visit in July 2020 where the premises were ‘absolutely heaving on arrival’ with ‘no social distancing’.
Mrs Burke, whose sister, Jayne Walton, also helps with the pub business and is a director, said the alleged breaches of social distancing were wrong. “We have been criticized for being inside the pub when restrictions are limited who you could see between Christmas and New Year,” she explained.
“But we live here and these people were members of our family. Not customers. We had a few drinks and six policemen came in through the door. But it was a family gathering. It was nothing to do with the pub as a business.”
Regarding violence, Mrs Burke added: “The odd fight has kicked-off, like many other pubs. But we always have tried to calm things down and get people to go home as quickly as possible. Other than walking people home or sitting in a taxi with them, what else can we do?
Mrs Burke said she has invested in measures, like sound-proofing, to ensure the pub is respectable to the local community, but believes some neighbors will simply object to any activity or disturbance linked to a pub.
“The pub has quite a large beer garden at the back,” she said. “During the pandemic restrictions, we opened the beer garden when we were allowed and there were some times when music and conversation was a bit loud. But we have changed what we do and have aimed to sort things out for the neighbours.
We had a complaint about a beer delivery wagon arriving early one morning at 5.30am. Yes, it was early. But I couldn’t control what time a delivery wagon comes. The wagon delivered about eight barrels, because it’s a small pub, and it was gone after a few minutes.
“We have sound-proofed the windows and turned the music volume down. We no longer have bands performing. We just have solo acts. We have signs displayed, asking people to be respectful to neighbours. I admit not everything was perfect but we are working hard to get things right.
“It seems like there are some residents who just do not want us here. They lean out their windows with mobile phones, looking for anything to report. But there are other neighbors here who have no complaints.”
Mrs Burke said she has tried to connect with neighbors of the pub, and doesn’t want to ‘fall out’ with them. She explained: “I’ve invited [them] to come for a drink in the pub, or a cup of tea or to a barbecue. But they have not taken-up the invitation.
“I want to work with them. I don’t want to get into tit-for-tat arguments. When some neighbors have had bonfires in their gardens, with smoke coming into the beer garden, I didn’t complain. I don’t want to fall out with people.”
Mrs Burke said council and police officers were supposed to be neutral but she feels the tone of some written notes in reports for the licensing hearing are judgmental and condescending. For example, she said some pub customers were described in written notes by officials as ‘Rossendale’s finest’.
She said the report also contained observations about parents with children which were disapproving and critical in tone, she believes. Parents with children are allowed in pubs, she emphasized. She said: “Let’s have facts rather than opinions.”
Mrs Burke is putting together written statements to support her case for the April 26 Rossendale Council licensing hearing. The hearing is at the the borough offices at Futures Park, Bacup, at 10am.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.