Licence problems plague pub company

Roger Pearson reports on the latest round in the battle of Midland's pub group RBNB over its refused licence applications. Midlands pub company RBNB is waiting to hear whether its High Court challenge has been successful.

The company argued before the High Court that the judge's decision at Warrington Crown Court was unlawful when it refused consent for transfer of a pub licence.

The case centres on a magistrate's refusal to give consent for transfer of the licence of the Weaver Hotel at Runcorn, Cheshire, to Les Kehoe, an employee of RBNB.

Although the magistrate, later backed by the Crown Court on appeal, said that there were no grounds for refusing Kehoe a licence because of his personal background, the licence was refused because RBNB would not reveal the identity of its shareholders. It was argued that because the shareholders would have ultimate control, their identities should be revealed.

The latest round of the legal battle is of major importance to the licensed trade in the UK.

Counsel for RBNB, Roderick Cordara QC, claimed that the courts were wrong to adopt the stance they had. He told the judge that RBNB owned a number of pubs, some of which had been operated without any licensing difficulties.

But local police had objected to other pubs, including the Weavers Hotel, holding licences because the identity of the shareholders was not known.

Cordara said: "In those cases, the police have either opposed the transfer of licences to managers employed by RBNB or have sought the revocation of the licence.

"In each case, the grounds has been the same, namely that without knowing who the shareholders are, it is not possible to be satisfied as to the fitness or propriety of the licensee or the proposed licensee."

He argued that in each case where a license had been refused the identity of those who would have day-to-day control of the premises was known and their character had been found to be satisfactory.

In those circumstances he claimed that it was not necessary for the identities of the shareholders to be made public.

Mr Justice Newman has reserved judgment in the test case and no date has been set for judgment to be given.