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The coronavirus lockdown has given encouragement to two of the less edifying aspects of the British character – the curtain-twitching love of informing on your neighbours, and the liking of the police for taking an over-zealous approach and making up the rules as they go along. Both of these tendencies were combined when no less than the Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, Ian Hopkins, made a public statement that the Shakespeare pub in Farnworth, near Bolton, had been serving drinks during the lockdown, and would have its licence revoked.
However, egg on face was in order when, as the Manchester Evening News reports:
But council licensing officials have now confirmed they had found 'no evidence' it had broken the rules during a visit two days later.
In his radio interview, the chief constable said The Shakespeare in Farnworth would have its licence revoked for allegedly letting drinkers in through the back door.
However, when the Manchester Evening News contacted the owners of the pub, they denied any wrongdoing.
A spokesman for Hawthorn Leisure, which runs the pub, said at the time: “There is absolutely no truth to suggestions that The Shakespeare in Farnworth has been serving drinks during the lockdown.
“Hawthorn Leisure has been strictly adhering to Government guidance, and the pub has not been open since it shut its doors on Friday night.
"Furthermore, our manager and her husband are both self-isolating due to pre-existing health concerns.
I’m not denying that any pubs have been breaching the lockdown conditions, but most of these cases seem to have been false alarms. Some have been genuine mistakes arising from observing the licensees doing cleaning or repairs, or engaged in permitted trading activities such as providing takeaways. But others have undoubtedly been driven by malicious intent, with people working out a grievance against the pub in question. As reported here, the lockdown has provided a golden opportunity for people with a grudge to inflict police harassment on others , no questions asked.
And surely someone in such as senior position as a Chief Constable should make absolutely certain they are on firm ground before making public accusations of this kind against businesses. Somehow, though, I doubt whether a public apology will be forthcoming. This is only one of a long list of examples of police overreach during the lockdown, with their colleagues in Lancashire recently excelling themselves.
If we were ever to end up with something like the East German Stasi in this country, they would clearly have no problem recruiting officers – or informants.
Interestingly, the Shakespeare is a full entry on CAMRA’s National Inventory of Historic Pub Interiors, although from the description it sounds as though the original features have been rather garishly painted over, and it has a pretty down-market pub offer. I’ve driven past it a few times in the past, but never been tempted to venture inside.