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Limes Lounge gay bar faces licence review over allegations of drugs, violence and sexual assault

Bosses at a gay bar claim authorities are out to “crucify” them as they face a licence review sparked by a spate of police call-outs.

Officers are urging the city council to examine the operating conditions at Limes Lounge in Rosemary Lane - the only gay bar in Canterbury - where they have been called to break up fights, probe a sexual assault and tackle a sword-wielding gang.

Police even allege to have found evidence indicating drugs had been taken in a staff area behind the bar.

But Michael Lee, who co-owns the business with Tony Butcher, has branded the allegations “absurd”.

The 39-year-old believes restrictions to their licence put forward by police could “eat up” their profits.

“The situation’s depressing,” Mr Lee told KentOnline.

“The drugs allegation is absolute rubbish. They did drug swabs and said there was evidence of drug use in our area – but we have a zero-tolerance policy towards it.

“The only way I could explain it is we handle money and it would touch people, I don’t know.

“Why would we do drugs behind the bar? It just doesn’t make sense.”

Police documents show officers have been called to dozens of reported incidents at the bar over the last 12 months.

Logs say “a group with swords” returned to the site after midnight on August 15, having already been turfed out. A fight reportedly started inside the premises, before the men ran away.

Michael Lee and Tony Butcher outside Limes
Michael Lee and Tony Butcher outside Limes

Three months later, door staff are said to have phoned police amid concerns they were outnumbered after a three-person fight erupted outside the venue.

Officers found a man with injuries when they arrived.

A man also reported to police his wife had been sexually assaulted inside the bar in February, prompting the doormen to eject the suspect.

“I’ve never seen anyone with swords outside – it’s ridiculous,” Mr Lee said.

“We’ve had to throw people out for being abusive or homophobic, but some of these reports are mental.”

Police say they have held talks with the owners to find a solution to the issues, but details of what new conditions they want imposed have not been disclosed.

Mr Lee says it would affect the venue in a number of ways.

“The police want to restrict our licence, and I won’t be a licence holder any more, so we’d have to find somebody new,” he said.

“It would restrict our opening hours, but we make all our money between 10pm and 2am.

“If they make us have security guards in the week, which they want to do from Wednesday onwards, that’s more money and would eat up into our profits.”

Limes Lounge is Canterbury's only gay bar
Limes Lounge is Canterbury's only gay bar

The force has also accused Limes of allowing customers entry after midnight, and of employing “unregistered door staff who have provided invalid details”.

Papers lodged with the city council also list: “Indication of recent drug use in the staff area behind the bar.

“Allowing for high levels of drunkenness that is having a detrimental impact on the community.

“Police receiving a high number of calls to deal with incidents that have begun at the premises and spilled out into the vicinity of the premises.

“Attempts to address these concerns with the license holder have failed and not changed the way the premises operates.”

"They’re trying to crucify us. They’re creating a situation which is not necessary...."

But Mr Lee insists the business does not let people in after midnight and that he and Tony “stand outside ourselves, often telling people to be quiet”.

The pair maintain they are “doing everything they can”.

“We’re treading on eggshells, that’s what it feels like,” Tony added.

“It’s all rubbish because it’s not actually factual. They’re trying to crucify us.

“They’re creating a situation which is not necessary. We don’t cause any issues here at all.

“There are 11 houses on this side of the road - there’s only one person who doesn’t like us, but the rest of them treat us like gold.”

Insp Thomas Mepstead confirmed police have “requested a licence review for Limes Lounge to prevent crime, disorder and public nuisance, and protect public safety”.

“This follows police receiving a number of calls to incidents which are believed to have begun at the premises, and concerns raised to Canterbury’s Community Safety Unit, including that levels of drunkenness allowed at the premises are having a detrimental impact on the local community,” he added.

“Further suspected breaches include the employment of unregistered door staff, entry being allowed after midnight and customers not being encouraged to disperse quietly after closing.

“The review will be heard at an upcoming meeting of Canterbury City Council’s licensing sub-committee.”

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