THERE can’t be many excuses that don’t leave members of the city council’s licensing board groaning “we’ve heard it all before”.
But even when they were told Azher Aslam didn’t shut his pool hall on time because his wife was about to give birth, they didn’t bat an eyelid.
Mr Aslam, who owns Bridges Pool Hall in South Queensferry, is now just one step from losing his licence after being punished by councillors for staying open later than 11pm.
He said he may now even shut down the venue for good and sell-up.
Mr Aslam, who lives in Gorgie, told the board that his head “went elsewhere” after receiving a phone call from his wife, Carol-Ann, just after 11pm on the night in October, telling him she had gone into labour.
The 37-year-old said he told those remaining in the bar the happy news and asked them to drink up.
But when police arrived at 11.50pm – following a complaint from a member of the public – they found around 12 customers were still inside.
Mr Aslam insisted he wanted to cash up himself before leaving the premises as he only had three temporary members of staff working while he hosted a charity disco for the Sick Kids Friends Foundation.
He blamed an “overwhelming” turnout for failing to get all his customers out the door.
He said: “I had shut the bar and I was trying to clear them out. I received a second call from my wife when the police were there.
“I managed to get the place shut before 12 o’clock and everyone was gone. I cleared up, done the till and left about half 12. I got home and ended up going straight to the hospital – I opened the door and my wife was standing there in pain and saying, ‘we need to go to the hospital now’.”
Baby Zain, who is now eight-weeks-old, was born less than an hour later at around 1.50am, with Mr Aslam bringing a copy of his birth certificate along to the board meeting to prove it.
Mr Aslam said he had been left “completely shocked” by the councillors’ decision to dish out a second endorsement on his licence, the first of which came after a fight broke out in the venue.
If he lands one more, a hearing will consider suspending or withdrawing his licence.
He said: “I thought the decision was ridiculous – it’s heartbreaking.
“I didn’t even see why it had got that far that I had to go in front of the councillors. It’s intimidating going to the City Chambers, it’s almost like going to court.”
Lawyer for the Bridges Pool Hall, Alistair Macdonald, told Monday’s hearing that his client had “taken his eye off the ball a wee bit” after receiving the phone call from his wife. Councillor Chas Booth, a member of the board, congratulated Mr Aslam on the birth of his son and added that he had “sympathy” over the case.
But he said: “If he’s managing the premises well, then he should be able to hand over to a deputy manager or somebody who should be able to close the premises on time.”
Fellow board member Joanna Mowat, a city centre councillor, added: “What might’ve been seen in some cases as a minor infringement was treated more seriously because he already had an endorsement on his licence.”