Vanity Bar and Nightclub in Soho has held on to its premises licence after councillors heard that its customers had been “targeted” and deliberately intoxicated, leaving them vulnerable to scams.
The decision taken by the licensing committee to give the Soho strip club three months to take “robust measures” while suspending the licence, stopped short of full revocation applied for by the Met Police.
Vanity’s future was called into question as a result of multiple reports of drink spiking and 10 thefts reported onsite totalling £250k.
Councillor Angela Piddock, the chair of the committee, announced after the 7 hour hearing on Monday that while councillors had considered the revocation of the license they were “only just persuaded” that breaches could be addressed by “robust conditions” including staff training and strict regulations.
Representing the strip club located on Carlisle Street, barrister Gary Grant labelled the police investigation as “half baked” and criticised “bold and scary ” that Vanity was a criminal hub and that drinks were being spiked on the premises.
Mr Grant said: “Let me make clear when we accept that things have gone wrong.
“But if you were to revoke the premises licence for a late night premises in Soho for the alcohol issue, then there are very few late night premises in Soho and the West End that would pass the scrutiny of this sub committee.”
Specifically addressing reports of thefts on site, he said: “There are so many cases where the loss of money takes place after the they’ve left our venue.”
He said that losses widely reported in the media of £98k and £37k far exceeded the total amount taken by the club on the nights the money was taken.
“After this customer has left our venue, they then go off somewhere, often with the assistance of pedicabs who are sadly too often behind this sort of behaviour, who take these men to unlawful brothels where they are ripped off.
“What we are witnessing is a seismic shift in the police’s case against Vanity, from how they applied for this interim steps on 15th November, and how it’s now been presented to you today.”
Mr Grant denied there was any evidence of patrons having their drinks spiked, suggesting that some deliberately feign this as an excuse to their wives and families. He said other customers claim they were scammed in order to claw back money from banks for legitimate payments.
The venue’s sexual establishment licence will still be reviewed at a later hearing.
Gerald Gouriet KC, speaking on behalf of the Metropolitan Police, called for the Vanity Club to be immediately stripped of its licence, saying that there was evidence that staff had deliberately targeted vulnerable and wealthy customers and got them intoxicated.
He added that Vanity had obstructed the investigation by failing to disclose all the relevant CCTV footage, while criticising the venue for trying to shift blame for incidents onto its customers and pedicab operators.
Mr Gouriet said: “What has been viewed gives rise to serious concerns as to the mismanagement of these premises that itself leads to undermining of the licensing objectives.
He added that this mismanagement had “its roots even before customers arrive at the club”, citing the venue’s Twitter page as saying “if you obey all the rules, you miss all the fun” and the Vanity website suggesting that men who ask the dancers ‘will get more”.
Summing up at the end of the hearing, Mr Gouriet rejected Mr Grant’s suggestion that the Met had changed it’s position, and said that whether customers were spiked or not, they were still left in state vulnerable to being scammed.
He concluded: “This picture of what I call the modus operandi of Vanity is the customer, not every customer, but a customer is targeted who looks like he might have wealth. He’s taken to a point where advantage can be taken of him, in the premises and or outside the premises.
“Either the licensee doesn’t understand he is deliberately turning a blind eye to the fact that, take for example the victim on the 24 November leaves the premises and suffers thousands upon thousands lost.
“Leaving as he did in the state that he did is the responsibility of Vanity, and they have a heavy burden of responsibility for what happens to him afterwards.”
The Met was supported in its application by members of the Soho Society as well as, Paul Fisher, Councillor for the West End ward and Deputy Cabinet Member for Licensing.
He said: “It is very difficult to envisage a case that is more ripe for the revocation of an alcohol licence as this. The question the Council must ask is this: If it (the council) cannot or will not revoke a licence in circumstances such as this, when will it do so?”