Bar linked to ‘serious crime’ can re-open weeks after licence suspended
- Credit: Charlotte Bond/SUPPLIED
A bar linked to serious crime can re-open with a new name, despite a number of complaints from police and whistleblowers.
An investigation by this newspaper has uncovered allegations of a serious assault and breaches of licensing rules at Sin Bar, in Coachman’s Court, Ipswich. A former assistant manager claimed there was a "hostile environment".
But the venue can now legally re-open from May 17, when Covid restrictions ease, as no further action is being taken by Ipswich Borough Council.
A post on the venue’s Facebook page confirmed it is relaunching with a new name, Eden Bar & Club.
No opening date has been announced, but at the moment, the venue licence states it is still being operated by the same company as when it was called Sin.
It comes just weeks after Suffolk police called for a review of Sin Bar’s licence, stating the premises was associated with “serious crime”.
It led to Shabbir Khan, the co-director of Virtuoso Lounge Ltd which is the licensee of the venue, being banned from entering when “licensable activities” such as selling alcohol are taking place.
He continues to be banned from the bar at such times under the re-issued licence dated April 5.
The nightspot was temporarily stripped of its licence in December at a hearing of the council’s licensing and regulatory sub-committee, but council bosses say the licence suspension lifted on Easter Monday after three months.
Council chiefs said all matters were considered when deciding the course of action, adding that “the prohibition in respect of an individual (Mr Khan) continues”.
Sin bosses said on Facebook over Easter that they had “put down their glasses and left the building” with Eden “taking over the venue".
But a fresh premises licence issued for the venue on April 5 belongs to Virtuoso Lounge Ltd, which has run Sin Bar since August 2020.
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Mr Khan is the director and owner of separate firm Sin Bar Ltd and he applied for a transfer of the premises licence into his name from May 2018 until Ellen Daniels, who owns Virtuoso, took over from January 2019.
Khan was made a director of Virtuoso in February 2020 and Sin’s licence transferred over to this company last summer.
'You couldn’t say no’
Sin Bar hit the headlines last August when at least 100 party-goers were caught on camera flouting Covid social distancing guidelines in the queue.
At the time, bosses said they were “disappointed” at the pictures saying they did not represent the bar’s “huge efforts” to ensure customer safety.
The following month, an alleged assault was reported and whistleblowers submitted a dossier of allegations to the police and council.
Weeks later, it was associated with “serious crime” by police in an official council notice and by Christmas its licence was temporarily suspended.
Separately, in February, Mr Khan appeared at Ipswich Magistrates’ Court where he was convicted of drink-driving and in March he was banned from the road. He has not responded to requests for comment.
But five ex-staff members of Sin told this newspaper how the popular nightspot allegedly descended into chaos.
Former bar staff claim licensing rules were frequently flouted, both before the Covid-19 lockdown in mid to late 2019 and after the first unlocking last summer, with employees instructed to sell alcohol to intoxicated punters.
“You couldn’t say no,” claims one former staffer, who did not want to be named.
“We stopped serving at 2.30am, but all the time, we would be told to serve people after 2.30am. That was a condition of the licence, we can’t do that."
Another ex-employee, who worked at Sin before the Covid pandemic, claimed: “As a bartender, it’s our job to decide when someone’s had too much and that’s our personal opinion.”
Assault and drug arrest
A third former staff member, Joshua Hayes, worked on the door and had been assistant manager for just over a year.
He left in October last year, saying the bar had become an increasingly “hostile environment” after a series of incidents, including an alleged assault in September.
It led to police arresting a man on suspicion of assault occasioning grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm, being concerned in the supply of controlled drugs, and administration of a noxious substance.
The suspect was later released without charge, with officers adding in a statement: “All reasonable enquiries were carried out in a thorough manner but due to insufficient evidence, no further action will be taken against the man at this time.”
Mr Hayes claimed while Covid regulations were not always implemented and followed when the bar re-opened last summer, in pictures and video footage shared with this newspaper, there were even bigger problems at play.
He says young women were escorted in while he was on the door without ID checks, which has been corroborated by multiple whistleblowers. He recalled an incident where one woman was “paralytic” and had to be taken away in an ambulance after becoming visibly drunk and out of control inside the venue.
A fourth employee, who wished to stay anonymous, claimed: “We tried to keep it together as a team, but it was so hard to separate the bad from the good, licensing could have walked in at any minute and we would probably have been in the wrong because we’ve had to serve people who we shouldn’t have served.”
We contacted Virtuoso Lounge Ltd and Mr Khan for comment on the allegations via phone and email, giving them five days to respond, but we did not hear anything back.
Eden Bar & Club was also approached for comment on their ownership but did not respond.
The ex-bar staff member, who left in December 2020, claims co-director, Mr Khan, knew the true scale of Sin’s problems.
“He’s openly said to people ‘I’m going to lose my licence next year’,” she claimed, a statement also echoed by other ex-staff members we spoke to.
As a result of December’s licensing hearing, a condition was put in place to prevent Mr Khan himself from entering the premises when “licensable activities”, such as selling alcohol, were taking place, and for a period of two hours before and after.
But the report on this hearing is not being made public by the council, on the grounds that it is required to protect individuals’ rights to privacy.
In a hearing held a few months before the first Covid lockdown, a former premises supervisor at Sin told a tribunal that the pressure of the job and Mr Khan’s behaviour during 2018, when he was in charge of the venue, led her to take an overdose.
Tanya Boyd had worked in senior roles at the venue, under various management, for 15 years and in January 2020 took her former employer, Sin Bar Ltd, to a tribunal held in Bury St Edmunds, claiming unfair dismissal and that she was in dispute with Mr Khan over statutory sick pay.
She told the judge that in March 2018 Mr Khan took over as owner, and described receiving frequent telephone calls from him, some out of hours. The tribunal heard she “found him very questioning; he would shout and swear at her in front of other staff and customers”.
Miss Boyd recalled a major fight at the bar on October 20, 2018. She told the tribunal she was helping customers who had been hurt alongside emergency services when Mr Khan kept phoning her.
She said she found the evening “extremely stressful” and on October 21 she took an overdose, due she feels to the “pressure and stress of her job and Mr Khan’s actions and behaviour towards her”.
Mr Khan said he had sent her a text to see if she was ok, which the tribunal did not accept as evidence. He said they had a meeting two weeks later to resolve concerns.
The tribunal also heard the owner, in a dispute over sick pay, sent Miss Boyd a text stating “there is no sick pay for anyone in Sin”.
Employment Judge Laidler concluded at the January 2020 hearing that Miss Boyd’s employment was brought to an end on November 28, 2018, where she made it clear she considered she was being “pushed out of the business”.
A spokesman for the tribunal service said no judgment has been issued yet in this case and that any hearings will be published online in due course.
Sin Bar: A timeline
May 2018 - Shabbir Khan, owner of Sin Bar Ltd, applies for transfer of the venue's premises licence into his name, appointing Tanya Boyd as designated premises supervisor
January 2019 - New premises licence issued in the name of Ellen Daniels
April 2019 - New company Virtuoso Lounge Ltd created, with Ms Daniels listed as its owner
January 2020 - Miss Boyd makes allegations about Mr Khan's behaviour towards her in a tribunal, relating to a period between March and October 2018
February 2020 - Mr Khan named co-director of Virtuoso
August 2020 - Virtuoso Lounge Ltd named licence holder of Sin Bar premises
September 2020 - Serious assault reported at venue
November 2020 - Dossier of allegations passed to Suffolk police about the bar, man arrested over alleged September assault, and police link bar to 'serious crime' in council notice
December 2020 - Sin Bar's licence temporarily suspended at council committee hearing
February 2021 - Police announce no further action against man over alleged assault
March 2021 - Mr Khan convicted of two drink-drive charges from December 2019 and October 2020
April 2021 - Council lifts venue's licence suspension and new name Eden Bar & Club announced on Facebook
Why are we reporting on this?
We were approached by a number of former staff from Sin Bar several months ago who were concerned by their experiences, public safety, and for the future of the venue.
Sin Bar draws in hundreds of visitors outside of lockdown and we believe there is a public interest in making sure that venues licensed by the council act responsibly.
The evidence we have been provided with raises legitimate concerns that in this case, Sin Bar was not.
Indeed, just last year police said it was associated with “serious crime”, so the fact that the venue is now allowed to open again under a different name, whilst seemingly being operated by the same company, has led to further concerns.