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Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?

07 Dec 02 - 05:42 AM (#842918)
Subject: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: The Shambles

With the talk of possible exemptions in possible new legislation, it is important that we do not lose site of what is presently happening and who is suffering now, with little or no legal justification under current legislation.

The licensee of the Blue Bell, Helpston, Peterborough is now facing possible prosecution for just allowing a long-running gathering of unpaid customers, making traditional English music.

Killed by the PEL system 2

Full details of the local efforts and what you can do to help can be found on the following site. Look for the 'flashing' link called Pellets.

This from Alan Wood who organised the session and is determined to prevent the licensee from prosecution.

>b>E-mail from Alan Wood. Header: Bluebell, Helpston - emotive stuff, this music.
19th November 2002

I was going to keep my head down for a few days and let others sound off but some of last night's exchanges gave me a concern that the 'wheels were coming off'.

I'm directing this missive at you to answer some of the specific questions which you asked about the background to the Helpston saga, and also to comment on the issues which you raised on the 18th.
I think the answers may be of interest to a wider audience, particularly if the Bluebell story and worries about the future Licensing Laws are merging into a blur and the focus is being lost with some of our Peterborough readers.

Firstly, no other musical events take place on a regular basis at the Bluebell to the best of my knowledge. Visiting morris sides and the annual Clare Society gathering are the only other times when anything spontaneous of a folk music / entertainment nature might occur.

My chief aim in pursuing the Bluebell case is to try and ensure that the licensee does not get prosecuted.

The opening paragraphs of Bosworth letter 1 is a plea for leniency, if a misdemeanour has occurred. I am asking people to join me in making this plea. The Peterborough Folk scene should have the opportunity to register their feelings and make a protest if they think it appropriate.. If sufficient members of that community don't come forward then I think we will be perceived as irrelevant.

Secondly, I would have no intention of running further sessions at the Bluebell unless a PEL ( or its future equivalent ) is in place.
If a PEL is granted to this pub then we would ask to go back. I don't know if the landlady is likely to apply - I'll ask her when I get the opportunity ( hopefully in the next few days - she is proving elusive. )

Thirdly, the local definition of 'performers' is not known to me. I would welcome some research into this if anyone has the time and energy to root out the Councillors who sit on the Licensing Authority.

I am fully in agreement with your sentiments about the possible folly of going head-on combat with Council employees. The officers may be digging in, but so far we have no evidence that the Councillors are supporting them. Karen's feedback seems to suggest the opposite. The situation may change, but I can't tolerate the prospect of Sue Furness climbing the steps of the Magistrates Court totally deserted by the local folk community. Emotive stuff, this music.


If you care for music and this concerns you at all, will you please help?

07 Dec 02 - 05:54 AM (#842920)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: The Shambles

The Bosworth letter 1, referred to above.

Letter from Alan Wood to Mrs. Jane Bosworth
Technical Officer (Licensing)
Environmental Health and Legal Services
Bridge House
Town Bridge

8th November 2002
10, Manor Drive
Nr. Peterborough
01778 560 497

Dear Mrs. Bosworth
Bluebell Public House, Helpston - Traditional music and song sessions
Copies to :
Trevor Gibson, Head of Environmental and Public Protection Services
Gillian Beasley, Solicitor to the Council
Helen Clark MP
Sue Furness, Bluebell, Helpston
Peter Newman, Principal Cultural Services Officer
Shelagh Grant, Director of Peterborough City Council Community Services
Rodney Lines, Chairman of the John Clare Society
Peter Moyse, Parish Councillor
Colin Turner, Peterborough Folk Diary
Pete Shaw, Folk musician
Hamish Birchall, Musician's Union advisor - PEL reform

It appears that Peterborough City Council, Environmental and Legal Services have a very strong case to pursue over the failure of the Licensee of the Bluebell Public House, in Helpston, to renew her application for a Public Entertainment Licence. I accept that your Department will have procedures laid down for you to follow and well defined guidelines will steer this investigation.

I sincerely hope that compassion for the Licensee will play a part in your Department's deliberations, as I understand no decision to prosecute has yet been made. I am sure that you are aware that illness and the considerable efforts that Sue Furness, of the Bluebell, has made to improve this village amenity, have made the last year very challenging for her. I am sure that the community of Helpston is pleased that the Bluebell is now a more vibrant and pleasant place to visit.

As the organiser of the late, monthly traditional music and song sessions at the Bluebell there are a number of aspects of your investigation which cause me concern and I feel that they should be brought to the attention of a wider audience. Most of these concerns are to do with 'context'. There are also issues which are certainly of local interest, and some which mirror similar disputes happening in other parts of the country.

Recent discussions with you always seem to focus on the bare bones of the regulations and your professional responsibilities. As public servants may be perceived as in place to advise, care and protect, then it is reasonable that the context of each case being considered for disciplinary action should be paramount. The context of the Bluebell at Helpston is almost unique.

I would welcome your comments on each of the following :

1. Folk music sessions at the Bluebell have been a part of village life for a long time. The poet John Clare (1793-1864) played his music in this pub and many of his manuscripts of the dance music and collected songs are to be found in local museums. It is worth noting here that when writing his autobiographical notes and sketches Clare referred to the Bluebell, describing it as 'the Nursery for fostering my rustic song'. ( Northampton MS 14 p.22 and Peterborough MS B8 p.10 )
In the last decade several local musicians have hosted sessions here - the main emphasis being participatory rather than performance. Both beginners and gifted amateur players have enjoyed the free and supportive atmosphere. The reputation of the Helpston sessions was high. The tradition for playing the music of John Clare (one of Peterborough's few cultural heritage links with the past) is now suspended in the very place where he too harmlessly played his fiddle.

2. All local authorities are supposed to be finalising their 'local cultural strategies' by the end of the year. The guidance for these strategies, published by the DCMS, specifically states that local authorities must promote the cultural well-being of their area, ensure fair access for all, develop this through a cross-departmental viewpoint, and not be bounded by the responsibilities of a specific department or committee. It also provided a case study example (from Newam) which recommended a review of licensing arrangements for small premises to encourage smaller premises to provide live entertainment. (Creating Opportunities, Guidance for Local Authorities in England on Local Cultural Strategies, published by the DCMS, December 2000. Contact number: 02072 116 370).

The approach taken by your Department in the case of the Bluebell appears to be in conflict with these recommendations. Your approach might make sense if there was an imminent public safety risk or serious noise nuisance issue. However, as far as I have been able to determine there was no noise complaint and the premises had almost completed a safety upgrade recommended by the |Council itself.

3. It would be interesting to hear what your colleagues Peter Newman, Principal Cultural ServicesOfficer, and Shelagh Grant, Director of Community Services might have to say about the above paragraph.
No English traditional music session is currently available to the people of Peterborough. The native music of the area has been suppressed. Neighbouring authorities seem to have no problem with their interpretation of the current ambiguous legislation and appear to have made policy decisions not to hound small folk and jazz venues, which use no PA, and create no noise nuisance or attract unsociable behaviour.

4. The fact that an anonymous complainant was able to draw your attention to the Bluebell is a worrying feature. One has to assume that any individual with a grudge, or wishing to hold a vendetta, can enjoy the power of your Department behind them. This is not to suggest that the professional integrity of Council employees is lacking, but there is something radically unfair if a mean mischief-maker can wreak such havoc. (I am not comparing the situation to a public-spirited citizen who feels the need to report sharp practice, dangerous situations or issues relating to health and safety. This concerns the ethereal world of jigs and reels enriching the atmosphere of a very English public house. )
There is an injustice at work here if anonymous, faceless individuals are the catalysts for causing distress and anxiety to victims. The issue of diverting you from other priorities does raise questions about the use of public money and how the valuable time of Council Officers is directed. I am sure elected members will be curious in the context of this case.

5. Some of the following recent statements made by Dr. Kim Howells, Minister for Culture cannot be dismissed. These are the words of your main policy maker.
'The rule is intended to apply to public performances put on by a public house to entertain the public and should not prevent ordinary people singing together or dancing in public houses……. The purpose of licence conditions is to ensure safety, minimise nuisance and prevent crime and disorder and we would expect local authorities to take these factors into consideration…' (letter to Helen Clark MP, dated 14.3.02.)

From BBC Radio 2, broadcast 17.7.02.
An interview between presenter Mike Harding and Dr. Kim Howells.

MH You've actually described the UK's licensing laws as archaic and at times wholly stupid. In one case there was a folk club that was shut down under the 'Two in a bar rule' and apparently six musicians were just tuning up at the same time before the session started and a council official who'd sneaked in to check up on the place thought they were violating the law and closed the session down. Well I've got to say whether it was jazz or whether it was folk music it wouldn't matter because that's hardly protecting our traditions or our culture is it? That's more like Stalinist Russia.

KH No. It's madness and worries me a lot, actually.

Later in the interview:
KH what we've got at the moment is a crazy rule….

MH If pubs don't have an entertainment licence, will the sessions and singarounds be banned?

KH Yes, I suppose they would be. The landlord would need to get entertainments licence to cover him or herself.

MH But this is not for gain, is it, you were talking about….

KH No, they certainly wouldn't and I'm very keen that we should make sure that that facility is there. There shouldn't be a problem. As long as money isn't changing hands, then there is no reason why they should have to have a licence."

A press release issued by the Department for Culture on 12th April 2002 carried the following statement by Culture Minister, Dr. Kim Howells:
'I am firmly committed to the reform and modernisation of our archaic and at times wholly stupid licensing laws. I do not need persuasion the 'Two musicians rule' is outdated and pointless.'

Some final points and observations:
 In the context of the Bluebell remember we are talking about a few people playing acoustic instruments, in an old fashioned pub unsuitable for expansion, not an electric band thrashing away through a stack of amplifiers.
 The Minister has stated that as long as money isn't changing hands then there is no reason why a licence is required!

* Is it reasonable for the reader to deduce that Peterborough City Council Environmental and Legal Services may not be working in the public interest with this particular case? Is an overzealous approach taken towards a tavern activity, which is no more environmentally dangerous than a game of dominoes?
To quote the Minister … 'it's madness and worries me a lot.'

Yours sincerely

The Council's reply to this letter can be found on the following site. Look for the 'flashing' link called Pellets.

07 Dec 02 - 06:00 AM (#842922)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: The Shambles

21 November 2002
Dear Mr Wood
Bluebell Ph House. Helpston Musical Folk Evenings

I write in response to your letter dated 8 November 2002.

The current position is that investigations are still being carried out in respect of the Bluebell Public House, Helspston in order to piece together the full picture before any decision is made.

As you rightly say in your letter, we do have procedures and guidelines laid down for us to follow and these comply with the rules of natural justice. Also as the enforcing authority we have a duty to implement this legislation. In this particular case, it is the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982.

For your information, a licence is required under the 1982 Act for 'public dancing or music or any other public entertainment of a like kind'. A licence is required whether or not the public are entertained by a performer or music or dancing, or where the public themselves take part in the dancing or music.

Payment to gain admission is not relevant to deciding whether the public is being admitted to an entertainment that requires a licence.

I trust this helps to clarify the reasons why a licence is needed.

In response to the remaining points mentioned in your letter, I will reply to these in the same order..

1 It is not the intention of this Council to stop these folk sessions taking place; indeed the contrary. Once a licence has been obtained then members of the public can again enjoy these sessions.

2 The consistent enforcement of public entertainment legislation to ensure public safety and minimise nuisance from noise also ensures fairness between businesses whilst complimenting the Council's promotion of cultural well being in their area.

3. Environmental Health and Community Services work closely together on a range of events requiring public entertainment licences to ensure that they are safe and do not cause unnecessary disturbance to residents in the area. I have discussed your letter with them and requested they reply direct to you on the issues within their areas of responsibility.

4. We have a statutory duty to investigate all complaints received. In the case of the Bluebell we received an anonymous complaint alleging that entertainment was being held without the benefit of a Public Entertainment Licence and this was happening on a regular basis. Our impartial investigation confirmed that the matters raised in the complaint were justified.

5. Until changes have been made to the relevant statutory requirements we have an obligation to implement the relevant legislation as it has been enacted and interpreted by the Courts. It is not acceptable for officers, or the Council, to act outside the law as it stands. If the Government, or Government Ministers, consider that the current law is not acceptable it is for Parliament to amend the law or introduce new legislation.

If you have any questions, or queries, which you require answering please contact me on the above direct dial telephone number. I will not be available this coming Friday 22 November or Monday morning 25 November. If you wish to leave a message for me I wiJI contact. you when I. return.

Yours sincerely

Jane Bosworth
Technical Officer (Licensing) Environmental Health and Legal Services


07 Dec 02 - 08:30 AM (#842970)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: breezy

How much does a licence cost, can we be told please?Maybe a grant from the cultural department or the arts council can be applied for.

09 Dec 02 - 04:05 PM (#844034)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: The Shambles

The latest from Alan Wood.

The Council officers ( Env. Health ) are still conducting their investigations into the Blue Bell case and we still don't know if any prosecutions are to be made.

10 Dec 02 - 01:51 PM (#844719)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: The Shambles

How much does a licence cost, can we be told please?Maybe a grant from the cultural department or the arts council can be applied for.

The cost of the licence is really not the issue mainly as it is only the licensee that can apply or pay for it. As this session was the only musical activity taking place, there is some real question to if the licence was even legally required for this.

Paying for the licence at this point will not settle the issue of whether the council are to prosecute her or not. Trying to prevent this, is the first objective.

Without the council proving this event was a licensable public entertainment, there has been no crime committed. The real danger is that if they do prosecute, the licensee will be forced to feel she has no choice but to plead guilty to allowing the traditional music making, to be considered a crime.

The question is, do you consider this to be a crime?

For even had there been only two participants, and even if these were paid 'performers', a licence would not have been required and this activity would not have been a crime.

It is simply that the council are saying that more than two pub customers making any live music are more than the two permitted 'performers' in a public entertainment and that this is illegal without the licence.

11 Dec 02 - 01:57 PM (#845327)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: pavane

If this 1982 act reads as quoted, then all the arguments about 2 in a bar and whether they are performers etc seem to be rather pointless? Or have I missed something?

11 Dec 02 - 04:21 PM (#845466)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: The Shambles

To see if the exeption applies, the officers have to use S 182 of the Licensing Act 1964, to establish the number of 'performers'.

If there are NO 'performers' there is no performance of public entertainment and if there is, No 'performers' are less than two, so it would be exempt.

The legal experts advise the interpretation of 'performer' as one engaged and paid to perform is not only open to them but would be compatable with the HRA.

08 Feb 03 - 05:41 AM (#885387)
Subject: RE: Can YOU help The Blue Bell session?
From: The Shambles

This from Pete Shaw

In today's Peterborough Evening Telegraph, page 17:

In less than three weeks, the popular face of Aubrey Sinclair-Ball will no longer be seen behind the bar of the Millstone Inn, Barnack. Instead, he is moving a couple of miles down the road to Helpston, where he has bought the Blue Bell Inn. He's been at the Millstone 18 years and starts on February 20th.

I wish him good luck.......