Popular Mansfield venue Ciao Bella avoids licence suspension over underage alcohol sales

Ciao Bella on Nottingham Road, Mansfield. Image LDRS
By Andrew Topping, Local Democracy Reporter

A popular Mansfield Italian restaurant and lounge bar will not have its licence suspended despite concerns over underage alcohol sales.

Ciao Bella, on Nottingham Road, will instead be issued with a written warning and new licence conditions to prevent further incidents.

The venue has operated as an Italian restaurant since 2015 and opened its neighbouring Ciao Bella Lounge three years later.

Both venues are covered by the same licence.

However, the business failed two test purchases for alcohol sales – firstly in September and then November last year – as part of wider police tests on venues across the town.

Both visits found alcohol was sold to underage customers without ‘Challenge 25’ identification checks taking place.

The venue was informed about the first test purchase failure and implemented staff training on the same day, but failed the second visit about six weeks later.

Fines were handed out on both occasions and police brought a licensing hearing before Mansfield District Council on Monday (January 23).

During the hearing, a force spokeswoman said the police did not have “confidence” in the venue management’s ability to prevent children from harm.

Officers recommended the licence be suspended for three months while the owners draw up further training for staff on underage alcohol sales.

However, Ciao Bella put forward a case against the suspension and urged for a written warning to be issued instead.

Patrick Robson, the venue’s legal spokesperson, told councillors “very robust” training was already in force to ensure staff adhered to ‘Challenge 25’.

Training was also issued to all staff on the night of the first test purchase failure, while a ‘refusal book’ was logged prior to the incidents when customers were ID checked and refused alcohol sales.

Further checks on staff training were implemented after both failed test visits and an external test purchase company was hired prior to Monday’s meeting, which Ciao Bella passed.

Mr Robson told the hearing: “It’s not a failure of the system, it was two occasions of human error.

“The systems in place were appropriate and robust, but these human errors can’t be eliminated entirely.”

However, a force spokeswoman told the committee the police still did not think these measures helped to “alleviate concerns” about child safety.

She said: “I would say the ineffective management style poses a risk to children in what is at the heart of the licensing objectives.

“The police support premises and we want them to thrive because it is the community we serve.

“It is of concern that, despite assistance, the second test purchase was failed. That’s why we bring this matter back to the licensing committee.”

The committee, made up of three district councillors, opted to follow up on the venue’s recommendations and issue the written warning.

The panel did not opt to suspend the licence, meaning Ciao Bella will not have to end alcohol sales for the coming three months.

However, extra conditions on the licence will enforce door security for ID checks and require the venue to evidence training and refusal logs for underage sales.

Reading out the panel’s verdict, the council’s legal spokeswoman said: “The panel’s decision is to modify the conditions of the premises licence to make them more robust in relation to training requirements and records, the Challenge 25 scheme and refusals.

“They also decided to add a new condition to require a trained and licenced door supervisor to be present on specified dates and times, and to add a new condition requiring a licence holder to be present on specified days and times.

“And the panel opted to issue a warning to the venue.

“The panel was disappointed in the failings demonstrated but considered the venue had acted appropriately by revising its processes and procedures, and adopting a more robust approach to training its staff.

“The hearing panel did not consider a suspension would be a proportionate approach.”

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