Plan for Weston bar scuppered as licence refused

Bar Bison in Weston refused licence

Bar Bison in Weston has been refused a licence - Credit: Google Street View

A Weston bar has been denied a licence amid suspected links to a criminal network. 

Following a string of “dubious” attempts to open Bison Bar, police said they believe latest applicant Jonathan Lawrence is a front for convicted class A drug supplier Adam Clarke, who is listed as the leaseholder for the Oxford Street premises and pays its business rates. 

Mr Lawrence told a licensing hearing he recently bought the venue off Mr Clarke, an acquaintance for more than a decade, but he was no longer involved in any way. 

Inspector Graeme Hall said drink driving offences cast doubt on Mr Lawrence’s suitability to be a licence holder and warned that another venue would further stretch resources when police are struggling to crack down on violent crime in the town. 

He told North Somerset Council’s licensing subcommittee on January 20: “Mr Lawrence hasn’t necessarily shown himself to be the person responsible for managing this business. We suspect an individual by the name of Adam Clarke may be involved. 

“That person has convictions, among others, involving firearms and drugs. We have intelligence that shows links between Mr Lawrence and that individual, therefore we suspect he may be funding this venture.”

Hoping to open daily at 11am, the original application was to close at 4am, but after concerns were raised, that was brought forward to 2am on Fridays and Saturdays and midnight from Sunday to Thursday. 

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Mr Lawrence also agreed to install more CCTV after police identified a blind spot at the rear fire exit they said could be used to move drugs and offensive weapons. 

Insp Hall said Weston has the second-highest rate of violent offences in the Somerset area and Oxford Street is at the edge of a hotspot for violent crime. 

“Considerable resources are having to be invested in tackling that problem,” he said. 

“There’s been a 13.8 per cent increase in violent offences in Weston over the previous 12 months.

“We have concerns this premises will contribute to that increase in violent crime linked directly to the night-time economy.” 

Responding to the concerns, Mr Lawrence said: “Adam Clarke was the leaseholder. I recently took it over from him. The paperwork is still going through. 

“He isn’t involved in any way, shape or form anymore.

“I’m the owner of Bison Bar.”

He said the paperwork was still being processed but was currently a verbal agreement dependent on securing the licence. 

Asked why Mr Clarke’s Mercedes had recently been seen outside the venue, Mr Lawrence said he bought it off him in November. 

He had proposed a condition banning Mr Clarke from the bar. 

But police licensing officer Andrew Jones said there were no controls that could be placed on the licence that would satisfy his concerns. 

He said the venue had a checkered history and there had been attempts from various “dubious” individuals over the last 18 months to secure a new licence. 

“The police cannot support this application because they have no confidence in the applicant’s associations and business operation and believe this premises is a high-risk venue for crime and disorder,” he said. 

“A concerning criminal association and relationship exists between a convicted class A drug supplier Adam Clarke, who is suspected of funding this business venture, and the applicant Jon Lawrence. 

“It’s apparent to the police that Lawrence is the frontman to obtaining the premises licence for the Bison Bar, which will be owned and operated by a criminal network. 

“The police have no confidence in the applicant, who has shown a concerning pattern of behaviour with convictions of driving with excess alcohol and an arrest last year for the same offence but was not charged. 

“This application comes at a time when crime and disorder has increased in the night-time economy in Weston town centre. This is a high-risk venue that would only add to the cumulative impact and further escalate the burden to limited police resources and partner organisations.” 

The licensing subcommittee voted to reject the application.