Stockton's Porky Pint loses two-year battle over breaches of Covid regulations

Paul Henderson, owner of The Porky Pint, has lost a two-year fight in the High Court. Credit: Teesside Live

A pub stripped of its licence for opening during lockdown has lost a two-year legal battle in the High Court.

The Porky Pint repeatedly opened to customers during covid restrictions and had its licence taken away by Stockton Council’s licensing committee in 2021. An appeal to Teesside Magistrates’ Court failed.

Now a High Court judge has agreed with the licensing authorities and a district judge, and upheld the decision to withdraw the licence.

Owner Paul Henderson saw the pub’s appeal dismissed, and it was given a £10,000 costs bill.

In the court’s judgment, Mr Justice Fordham, sitting at the High Court in Leeds, described the action taken by the council with the Mill Lane pub including warning letters, a fixed penalty notice and a prohibition notice. He outlined the facts of the case which he said were unchallenged.

He said complaints had been made to the council about a lack of Covid control measures at the pub when Stockton was in tier two restrictions, with indoor meetings of two or more people banned except for wedding receptions of up to 15 people. The Porky Pint hosted a wedding reception with 30 guests on 30 October 2020.

The Porky Pint, in Billingham, was open as a pub days after more covid regulations required pubs to close and banned on-premises food and drink sales in November 2020, the court heard.

A licensing officer walked in and was asked if he wanted a drink, and people were seen drinking, hot food being served and a TV showing sport.

Mr Henderson told police he was not required to close the premises and felt social distancing and track and trace were a breach of his human rights, the judge said. Days later, the pub was operating again with five drinkers removed by police officers.

Mr Henderson told officers he did not believe in coronavirus, the court heard. He advertised the re-opening of the pub on Twitter, despite a prohibition notice, in January 2021.

He told a licensing officer he did not believe official statistics and had views on the government’s honesty and the validity of the pandemic, the court was told. After he re-opened, he did not provide CCTV to a licensing officer.

The licensing committee received more than 40 representations from residents and others supporting Mr Henderson including praise for him and the valued pub. But the committee was not convinced he would act differently in future and decided it was necessary to revoke the licence.

The licensing panel found "extremely serious" breaches, given the thousands of lives lost in the pandemic.

After an appeal verdict in the council’s favour at Teesside Magistrates’ Court, Mr Henderson vowed to fight on through the High Court.

Paul Oakley, representing Mr Henderson, argued the restrictions in the case were not alcohol-related harms so they did not fall under public safety or crime prevention licensing objectives. It was argued covid-19 was “not a great and particular threat” and questioned as to whether it was a pandemic.

Mr Justice Fordham found the Teesside judge was right to consider matters of public health. He said there was “nothing incorrect – still less unreasonable or unjustified” in this.

He said the judge was right to take behaviour which did not result in criminal prosecution into account and conclude there was no lawful right to withhold the CCTV. The judge dismissed the appeal and ordered the appellant to pay £10,925 costs.

Mr Henderson has been contacted by the Local Democracy Reporting Service for comment. Stockton Council confirmed the licence remains revoked following the High Court hearing.

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