A pub owner who socialised with customers when he was supposed to be in quarantine said he did not think he was breaking the rules because he lives at the bar.
William Cumming, landlord of the Lochside Bar in Montrose, was supposed to be in self isolation after a trip to Spain, when police found him sitting with punters in his beer garden.
The pub’s alcohol licence has been suspended for two months after the 60-year-old, who has run the hostelry for almost 10 years, appeared before Angus Council’s licensing board.
Mr Cumming’s personal licence has also been suspended for the same period after police visited the pub three times during July.
The patrols started after an anonymous tip off to police that Mr Cumming and his wife were not following the two-week self isolation rule after returning from Spain on July 5.
On one visit, when only outdoor drinking was allowed, police found Mr Cumming in his beer garden with more than 20 customers.
He said he believed he was following quarantine rules as he lives above the pub.
A police spokeswoman told Thursday’s licensing board it was one of the most severe coronavirus breaches seen in a pub but Mr Cumming appeared “completely unaware that he had done wrong”.
She added: “This is one of the more serious things that we have come across since the start of the pandemic.
“Whether he was in his own garden or not, there were at least 24 people with him so that is severe. We think this is really serious.
“Officers believed tables were not spaced out to allow two-metre distancing and numerous empty bottles and glasses were strewn across the tables, enforcing the idea that tables were not being regularly cleaned to prevent spread.”
Mr Cumming attended the virtual meeting and told councillors he had returned from Spain after being stuck there for four months during lockdown.
“Ignorance is not a defence,” he said.
“Our understanding was we could still go shopping and exercise, that was probably ignorance on our part.
“We thought apart from shopping and exercise we had to stay on our premises but we live above the bar so we just thought that was our premises.
“In hindsight we were stupid not to totally quarantine but we were not aware of the difference.”
Mr Cumming’s solicitor, Anne McKeown, said her client “genuinely believed” he was not breaking the rules.
“On reflection he accepts he should have quarantined but when he was genuinely surprised he had done something wrong.
“It was a very fast moving situation and he understood he and his wife were still allowed to go out for shopping and exercise.
“Additionally, they live in the premises so were at their home address and rightly or wrongly they genuinely believed they were complying with requirements.
“As soon as the matter was brought to their attention they complied fully.”
Councillors on Thursday’s licensing board hit out at the behaviour and considered permanently revoking the pub’s licence.
Arbroath councillor Alex King said: “This is an absolute disgrace.
“We have been trying to emphasise for six months just how serious this outbreak is. We cannot belittle the seriousness of these breaches.
“We have to send out a warning to every licensee in Angus that we will not tolerate breaches of the regulations of this magnitude.”
Monifieth representative Beth Whiteside said she found Mr Cumming’s explanation “implausible”.
She added: “What we are seeing here is not a minor breach, it seems to be a disregard of the regulations entirely.
“Responsible bar owners must be really angry seeing actions like this.”
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