Meeting to decide Sheffield nightclub's fate adjourned after row over police evidence
A meeting to decide the fate of a Sheffield nightclub that was closed in the wake of a series of knife attacks has been adjourned after police failed to share evidence with the club's legal team.
Niche has been closed since an incident in the early hours of Saturday, December 23, when five men, aged between 21 and 42, were found injured in the Wicker area, with detectives believing their injuries may have been connected to an incident at the club. Four of the men had been stabbed.
Members of Sheffield City Council's licensing sub-committee met this morning to discuss the terms of Niche's license, and whether the Walker Street venue should be given permission to re-open.
But the hearing was adjourned after Leo Charalambides, representing Niche, raised objections to South Yorkshire Police being allowed to participate in the hearing due to his assertion they had presented incomplete paperwork, which also used the wrong statute, and had presented evidence they intended on using during the hearing at the last minute.
Mr Charalambides told the meeting: "We do not consent to CCTV evidence that has just been produced being used, we do not consent to this new documentary evidence being used, we do not consent to the number of witnesses who happened to pop-up this morning."
Aaron Moss, representing South Yorkshire Police, did not dispute that the force had submitted incomplete legal forms, but said the individuals Mr Charalambides assumed were witnesses were actually police officers who were present to assist with proceedings - but not to give evidence.
Mr Moss said the investigating officer in the case was the only police officer due to be called as a witness during the hearing. He did not dispute the suggestion that some of the evidence police intended on using during the hearing had been submitted late.
The licensing committee's legal officer, Samantha Bond, said "We're disappointed that information had not been shared to people in order for them to prepare representations," adding that the committee had adjourned the meeting to allow for evidence to be shared and for all parties to be given time to make the necessary representations.
Mr Moss requested that when the hearing does resume, at a date yet to be set, that the press and public should be excluded from certain aspects of the hearing, such as the presentation of one piece of CCTV evidence, due to concerns it could prejudice the ongoing investigation into the mass-stabbing.
He said: "There are two suspects who have yet to be arrested, yet to be interviewed and yet to be - hopefully - charged.
"We would say that the protection of this criminal investigation, in relation to these two outstanding suspects, is in the public interest, and outweighs the public interest in hearing the evidence in relation to this.
"The application is that the public will be excluded from the body of the opening, and from the evidence given by the investigating officer."
Committee chair, Coun David Baker, said: "We feel it should be held in public, but that members of the press and public should be excluded when evidence is given that could prejudice the investigation."
Over 30 people turned out in support of Niche this morning, some of whom arrived holding placards and a banner bearing the slogan 'Save Niche'.
Many of the supporters came to the Town Hall with the hope of watching the meeting from the public gallery, but were initially refused access to the building by security guards who had been informed this morning's meeting would be held in private - as requested by South Yorkshire Police.
But after Niche's legal team took the matter up with Sheffield City Council, around 15 of Niche's supporters were admitted to the meeting. The rest were not admitted, due to the limited number of seats in the public gallery.
Niche opened in Sheffield in 1992 and its original Sydney Street venue became the birthplace of bassline music, attracting clubbers from all over the country, but it closed in 2005 after a drug raid and a number of attacks.
Club owner Steve Baxendale's brother, Michael Baxendale, was stabbed to death outside the club in 1998 in an incident in which two bouncers were also knifed.
It-re-opened on Charter Row but closed in 2010 after more violence in and around the club.
The club moved to its new Walker Street venue, under the Wicker Arches, last January.