Published: 07/08/2012 14:51 - Updated: 07/08/2012 14:54

Red tape halts probe into Rangers fans' illegal booze-up

Written byBy Hugh Ross

The Chieftain Hotel in Inverness.
The Chieftain Hotel in Inverness.

EXTRA time will be sought by licensing chiefs who have been barred from deciding on a possible punishment for an Inverness pub which let 150 football supporters illegally drink before Caley Thistle played Rangers in a crunch SPL match.

The Chieftain Hotel avoided its licence coming under review at a Highland Licensing Board meeting today because councillors had run out of time to debate the serious breach of its conditions in February.

The board now hopes to revisit the incident in the autumn if Northern Constabulary will resubmit a letter of complaint.

The Millburn Road bar’s landlady Elizabeth Lawson admitted to police letting Rangers supporters into the premises to drink from 11am on Sunday 26th February before the televised match.

That was an hour-and-a-half before the pub’s licence to sell alcohol starts – but Mrs Lawson told the officers she had feared "a riot" if she had turned the fans away.

Officers estimated that 150 people were in or outside the premises at 11.30am, with a fleet of coaches and mini-buses parked up.

Mrs Lawson was reported to the procurator fiscal for breaching licensing legislation and Chief Inspector Pamela Ross wrote to the board asking for it to review the Chieftain’s licence.

However, the board’s clerk Alaisdair Mackenzie said it could not consider the request because too much time had elapsed since the letter had been sent at the end of May.

He said legislation stated the matter had to be considered within a strict timescale but the letter had arrived too late for the board’s June meeting before the summer recess.

"Unfortunately this cannot go ahead today due to a technical matter," he said. "We have to determine this within 40 days of receipt of the police letter. We didn’t used to have this time bar under the old Act, but there it is."

Mr Mackenzie said it was up to the police to resubmit the letter and he would write to Northern Constabulary asking it to do so.

If a fresh complaint is received the board could then discuss the issue at its October meeting.

The board has the power to revoke or suspend licences, cut opening hours or issue a written warning.

On the day of the match, which kicked off at 12.45pm at the Tulloch Caledonian Stadium, a call was made to the police that a busload of supporters had gone to the Chieftain and entered via a rear door.

Staff were observed selling alcohol by the officers who decided against trying to clear the bar because of the large number of patrons.

In a report to the board, the licensing standards officer Ian Cox said the long established hotel is owned by Punch Partnerships and Mrs Lawson had taken over as a tenant at the start of February.

Mr Cox said the large public bar and lounge had traditionally been "very popular" with Rangers and Celtic fans whenever the Old Firm played in the Highland Capital.

However, Mrs Lawson claimed she was unaware of the hotel’s popularity with football fans but Mr Cox said he expected her to have been fully briefed when she took over the business.

He added the board had rejected an application from the now closed Portland Club – home to the city’s Rangers supporters club – which wanted to serve alcohol from 9am on the day of the match.

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