Lanarkshire cinema chain overturns alcohol ban

A leading cinema chain has emerged victorious from a legal battle against licensing officials who refused it permission to sell alcohol at screenings in a North Lanarkshire town amid fears it would spark antisocial behaviour and underage drinking.

Anan, 6, and Robyn Devlin, 4, with their favourite book film characters Winnie and Wilbur. Picture: John Devlin

Showcase Cinemas was refused a licence to sell alcohol at its premises in Coatbridge after Police Scotland objected to the proposal.

It is believed the ban was the first of its kind at a cinema anywhere in the UK.

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The chain’s parent company, National Amusements, challenged the decision by North Lanarkshire Council’s licensing board at Hamilton Sheriff Court, insisting that it was a draconian measure.

The force warned that reversing the ban would cause “dangers to those aged under 18” as well as an “increased likelihood of disorder and the potential for harm”.

But a sheriff has ruled in the cinema firm’s favour, stating that the licensing board was unable to justify the concerns that prompted the ban in the first place.

Sheriff Daniel Kelly, QC, said there was no evidence that such a blanket ban would stop violent incidents and said there was no reason to single out the Coatbridge venue as one more likely to experience disorder.

In a written ruling, he said: “The concerns which the board had for children in darkened cinemas when alcoholic drinks were being consumed might well be commendable.

“However, grounding a decision upon them would require clarity as to what formed their basis.

“While the board have expressed a discomfiture which they feel and concerns which they harbour, it is not possible to detect any justifiable, objective material which forms the basis for them and thereby for the decision taken by them.”

He added: “Were there any actual instances of harm to be drawn from cinemas elsewhere, none were alluded to. Were the particular locality such as to render it sensible to treat it differently from elsewhere, no mention was made of it.”

Sheriff Kelly quashed the local authority’s decision and ruled the cinema should be granted a licence to sell alcohol at all screenings after 7pm.

Mark Barlow, the general manager of Showcase Cinemas UK, expressed relief at the ruling.

He said: “We are delighted with the judgment of the sheriff in our favour in this matter.”