Over Christmas 2017, an investigation into city centre drug dealing forced four clubs to temporarily close their doors, but the case seems not to be closed, as the police have asked the Council to review the alcohol licence of the Apartment Group once again.
Bars managed by the Apartment Group, including House of Smith, Florita’s and Madame Koo which are all located on Collingwood Street, as well as neighbouring The Empress, were shut down from late December 2017 to early January 2018 after an investigation into cocaine dealing. The investigation – Operation Doncaster – ultimately saw 20 people, including promoters, a bar manager, doormen and drug dealers, jailed for a total of more than 50 years. During the initial closures, police seized £17,000 in cash as well as an estimated £14,000-worth of cocaine from the venues alongside an imitation pistol which was held as evidence alongside the drugs. Undercover police reports claimed that drug dealers would roam freely between the clubs and were given “celebrity status”, bypassing queues and entering VIP areas without being searched.
They only managed to keep their licence after presenting evidence that they were working to ‘put preventative measures in place’. However, in the wake of reports of further drug use at House of Smith, the licence has been placed under review once again, and the Apartment Group bars are reportedly in danger of closure once again. The report submitted by the police includes a staff member involved in the supply of drugs who received a caution for possession of a Class A drug, and concerns over a “lewd and sexualised” promotional sign that was used during freshers’ week. The Police have also voiced fears about both the use of drugs by other staff members and patrons on the premises, and the failure of staff to report it.
Northumbria Police Chief Inspector Steve Wykes argues the Force was “left with little choice” but to request a review.
Wykes continued, saying: “We are very disappointed that we are in this position considering all the work that we have done to engage with licensed premises as part of Operation Doncaster. That investigation sent a strong message to businesses across the city that they needed to work with us to drive drug use and criminal activity out of the city centre.
“But we have found evidence that suggests they have failed in this duty and we have been left with little choice but to take this course of action.”
Wykes also spoke about the goals of investigations like this: “I want to be clear that the vast majority of businesses in the city centre continue to work well with police and key partners to safeguard those who enjoy the night-time economy in Newcastle.
“We have a duty to keep the public safe and will take this course of action if we feel it is necessary and proportionate.”
There will be a 28-day consultation period, after which a hearing will decide whether the Apartment Group will keep their licence or not. House of Smith has been reached out to for comment.
This news comes as it has been announced that the number of North East people using the most serious drugs, such as heroin and crack cocaine, has risen continuously over the past 15 years, with the region recording a total of 903 drug-related deaths from 2016 to 2018. This means that in 2-18 the North East saw 96.3 deaths related to drug misuse for every one million residents, the highest level in the country at almost triple the rate in London. The report found that the North West and North East now have the highest rates of illicit opiate and/or crack cocaine use in the UK, with an estimated 2174 opiate and/or crack cocaine users in the Newcastle. A review commissioned by the Home Office attributes the increase in violent crime primarily to the drugs trade.
Police drug seizures in the North East from 2018 to 2019 included 27g of cocaine, 2kg of crack, 8kg of heroin and 999kg of herbal cannabis.
Last modified: 28th February 2020