Bar shut down over Covid-19 breach

Pong London in Pentonville Road (credit Google)

Venue hosted New Year’s Eve party during pandemic peak, reports Ed Sheridan, Local Democracy Reporter

A Pentonville Road bar has been shut down for breaching Covid-19 restrictions amid scorching criticism from Islington councillors.

According to police, Pong London has taken up at least 100 hours of officer time since a change of management in August 2020, with residents raising repeated concerns about breaches of coronavirus restrictions from that time.

Premises manager Olawade Ogunye has now been stripped of his licence, after Islington Council’s licensing authority declared it had “no confidence” in his ability to run the venue properly. A pre-arranged basement event held on New Year’s Eve, and attended by Ogunye himself, saw patrons fleeing the venue in order to evade detection by police. 

At the licensing meeting where Ogunye was stripped of his licence, which the venue operator did not attend, committee member Paul Convery said: “In my experience this is one of the worst reports I’ve ever read. It is a catastrophic catalogue of infractions, incompetence and deliberate law breaking. 

“It is deliberate flouting of the Covid rules at the height of a pandemic. The event that he hosted on New Year’s Eve, that day in London there had been 4,500 infectious cases recorded in London, the hospitals were filling up with people who were ill from coronavirus infection. 

“It’s one of the most incredibly irresponsible flouting of the law one could come across.”

According to the report, following a number of visits from September onwards, licensing and police officers turned up at Pong on New Year’s Eve to resident reports of staff “smuggling in numerous party-goers” through a side entrance, with reports of up to 40 people inside and the owner “intermittently letting people in when he believed no-one was watching.”

Police found the premises locked and in darkness, with no response to calls to Ogunye’s phone. Officers subsequently suspected that there were patrons and staff still in the basement area of Pong hiding, with marked police units withdrawing to leave plain clothed licensing officers “to maintain covert observations”.

At this point, several people were seen lingering outside making phone calls, who seemed to be not being allowed in because the organisers of the party were aware of police in the area.

A large number of people “dressed for partying” were then seen fleeing the venue through a fire escape door on Pentonville Road, with minicabs attending the venue saying they had been called to collect customers.

Entering through the fire escape door, officers found Pong in complete darkness, with people still in attendance in the VIP area and “a strong smell of cannabis” throughout the basement. 

The report adds: “Ogunye attended shortly later, apparently having been alerted by phone. Although he stated he wasn’t taking money and the venue was not open to the public, he did admit to being fully aware a party was taking place for staff and promoters.”

Pong London was approached for comment, but had not responded by time of going to press.

A recent licensing committee was told that the owners of the building currently hosting Pong are aiming to convert the venue into a café/bakery, following Ogunye’s own eviction.

Licensing committee chair Phil Graham said: “This has been one of the most appalling cases I’ve seen since I’ve been chair of licensing. They have not only put the licensing regulations to the back of their minds and taken no mind for them at all, but also put the Covid regulations. 

“They don’t give any regard for anything. They don’t care. The licensees of this premises are an example of why you need strong licensing laws and regulations. I would like to commend the police, our licensing authorities and the noise team. The amount of work they’ve had to put into this one venue, which has been taking up so much of our time when we have legitimate businesses trying to stay afloat. 

“Islington has a history of good venues, and then we get a venue like this that crushes people’s faith in what Islington’s venues are like. They have without doubt deserved to be closed down. I’d like other licensees to pay attention.

“If you play the rules, we’ll look after you and do everything in our power to help you and keep you afloat through this really rough time for venues. But if you do like this venue has done, we will be out there to deal with it.”

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