What can be done to tackle alcohol-fuelled violence in our city centre? A doorman who spends seven nights a week trying to keep drinkers safe thinks he may have an answer. Katy Wheeler reports.
A SUNDERLAND security boss wants to stamp out violent behaviour in the city centre.
Les Ojugbana believes people’s fear of violence is hindering a potential boom in the night-time economy.
At the helm of Gbana Security, he and his team of door staff are at the frontline of keeping six of the city’s biggest pubs and clubs safe.
And though he says much is being done to keep punters safe indoors, more needs to be done to remove known violent people away from fellow drinkers.
“I’ve been working the city centre for 12 years now and I’m there seven nights a week,” he said. “And it kills me to see taxi and Metro-loads of people going through to Newcastle and Durham to spend money they’ve earned in Sunderland.”
Though a PubWatch scheme is already in place to identify and ban people who display repeated violent behaviour, Les wants to take the clamp down one step further.
He wants to instil a ‘one strike and you’re out’ policy whereby anyone known to be involved in any acts of violence in the town is banned from the pubs he looks after for life.
Bouncers already have a good relationship working with police on patrol in the city centre, but Les wants anyone identified as causing trouble by door staff to be driven away from the city centre by police or else face arrest.
Police already have powers to remove individuals away from a locality with a Section 27 form under the Violent Crime Reduction Act.
This is where an individual’s presence is likely to cause or contribute to the occurrence, repetition or continuance of alcohol-related crime or disorder in a locality and it is necessary to remove the individual from the locality for the purpose of removing or reducing the likelihood of there being such crime or disorder in the locality.
Les, who runs the doors at Ttonic, Miss D’s, Cuba, Banana Jo’s, Pulse and The Basement and is to take on Life of Riley when it opens in place of The Glass Spider, said: “We know exactly who the troublemakers are. Often, once they’ve been banned, they’ll try to give us a sob story to get back in.
“We always refuse but then they just hang around the city centre causing trouble.
“That’s why we want the police to actually move them out of the centre.”
Over the years, the businessman says he’s seen a once-thriving city nightlife decline rapidly.
Though more is being done than ever before to keep violence out of pubs and clubs, it often spills into the streets.
Though door staff can intervene in these incidents, they don’t have powers to remove people from the city centre.
But with new bars opening – The Basement, Voodoo Lounge and Pure have all opened in recent months – and with other bars set to open soon, Les says now is the time to tackle bad behaviour.
“Violent behaviour affects the night time economy by loss of jobs to bar staff and owners,” he said. “We want to see the town back to the way it was three or four years ago.
“People are investing money into the city centre with new venues opening but more needs to be done in seeing a decent clientele come back to Sunderland to spend their locally-earned money locally.”
At any one time Les has 30 of his staff running the doors in the town and he says their relaying of information to police would be key to keeping Sunderland safe.
“We already have a good relationship with police but we want to take it to the next step,” he said. “The vast majority of people who drink in Sunderland are decent people, and Sunderland is a lot safer than Newcastle and Durham, but we don’t want them to be put off by an influx of undesirables into the town.”
A Northumbria Police spokesman said: “In Sunderland crime is down by 18 per cent and reports of antisocial behaviour are down by eight per cent compared to the same period last year.
“We continue to work with our partners, including publicans and door staff, to take the most appropriate action to deal with reports of crime or antisocial behaviour.”
Bid to turn around troubled venues
A SWATH of new bars have opened or re-opened in recent months.
In November, the Echo reported that Andrew Stoker and his firm, Stoker Leisure Limited, are now at the helm of Bar Pure in Olive Street which has been derelict for two years after its licence was revoked.
He is determined to turn the once-thriving bar around after it was tarnished by drugs allegations and underage drinkers.
Last month, the former Paddy Whacks pub in Green Terrace, which had previously gone into administration, became Voodoo Lounge.
At the same time, The Basement, also in Green Terrace, opened as the first part of the development of the historic Galen Building.
Utopia bar is set to open in the same building later in the year.
Across the road, the derelict Glass Spider pub will re-open as Life of Riley in March.
Though Independent in Holmeside closed on Saturday night, it will re-open in March in a bigger venue across the road in the former Van Mildert building.