NIGHTCLUB owners and managers across Scotland have told the Sunday Herald they are increasingly reluctant to contact police if they find drugs on their premises - for fear of their assistance being used against them and their venue closed down.
The comments follow the closure of Glasgow’s Arches which nightclub owners and staff say damaged the relationship with Police Scotland.
Industry body the Scottish Licensing Trade Association have said the manner of the venue’s closure had “strained” relations between police and clubs.
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There were warnings that clubbers may also be put at risk as venues are now less likely to provide harm prevention measures, like bottles of water, medical staff, and chill out rooms in case their actions are used as evidence against them at a future licensing hearings.
Police Scotland rejected the fears and said reporting drugs found on premises would be recorded as a “positive action”.
The Arches was closed in June this year after police presented Glasgow City councillors with a 27 page dossier detailing the 213 times police had been called to the club in between 2014 and 2015 - even though it was security staff at the club who called police on just about every incident.
The venue always claimed it was one of the safest and most responsible clubs in Scotland with a 100% customer search policy, but police warned councillors that to allow the club to continue would have “potentially lethal and profound consequences.” Councillors felt they had no choice but to remove the Arches licence.
The Sunday Herald talked to club owners, managers and security providers - door staff and bouncers - throughout Scotland, none of whom were willing to go on the record, but all of whom, said they would not contact police unless it was unavoidable.
Calling in small amounts of recreational drugs being found on clubbers would, one source said put venues “under the spotlight” or could lead to the licensee losing their own personal licence.
One source told the Sunday Herald that a recent application for an outside area for his venue had been turned down after police recommended councillors say no because they been called out to around 30 drug related incidents in the year. All of those incidents saw the police called in by the venue. The manager there said: "It was like the police were making us build up the case against ourselves.”
Others said if they found a small amount of drugs on a person they now just turned them away. It was only if they found a dealer that they would call the authorities.
One source said the change from the eight legacy forces to Police Scotland meant the policing had become more like a business. “They need to save money, so they get rid of the expensive pubs and venues. That’s what the Arches was. The Arches are gone and it’s one less expense. They couldn’t have picked a bigger or better example.”
Paul Waterson from the Scottish Licensed Trade Association said: “There’s always this tension between some license holders thinking that if they do report things to the police then it can go against them. The Arches highlighted that situation.
“We’re always very clear that we have to work together with police, but there’s no doubt that the Arches situation strained the relationship as did the move to Police Scotland.”
Drugs policy expert Anna Ross from the University of Edinburgh said pushing drug taking and recreational drugs further underground could only have negative effects.
“Everyone and anyone who would advise the police - and anyone who’s got any dealings with drug users - knows it’s better to have harm reduction, and it’s better to have a team in a club aware of what’s going on than not. It was obviously a decision by someone in the police force who just doesn’t like the fact that people go out and take drugs and get high.”
Chief Superintendent Barry McEwan, from Police Scotland, said: "The Licensing objectives of the Licensing Scotland Act 2005 places a responsibility on license holders and their staff to prevent crime and disorder, secure public safety and protect and improve public health. The reporting of matters such as drug misuse is a vital aspect of that, and the licensing community should have absolutely no concerns in reporting their concerns to Police Scotland, as we will work with them and support premises in addressing this issue. We also encourage our Licensing teams to record such reports as positive actions.
"In respect of licensing, Police Scotland regularly carries out inspections of premises to support the licensed trade and to identify and solve problems. Looking for signs or evidence of drug misuse is one of the many things we may look for during routine, tasked or intelligence led inspections. This approach works alongside our operational focus on identifying and arresting individuals and groups who choose to misuse or deal in unlawful drugs.
"Reporting to the regulatory authority would only take place where our attempts to solve problems with the premises' license holder have been unsuccessful, or the matter was deemed so serious that it was felt necessary to advise the licensing board of the circumstances. These decisions would be taken on a case by case basis."