On the evening of Friday 30 August 2013, around 40 officers with specialist drugs dogs entered the Viper Rooms Club on Parliament Street in Harrogate. The premises were cleared of customers before starting a search for drugs and evidence of the use of drugs.
The police team initially grouped in a number of vehicles on Cornwall road. They then travelled in convoy to Crescent Gardens where they quickly deployed from their vehicles. Undercover police were already working in the town and had been relaying information.
The search of the club concentrated on the staff areas – the areas that were not readily accessible to the public.
No drugs were found although a quantity of small plastic bags were found with traces of cocaine.
Inspector Bruce Prendergast is the town centre police inspector for Harrogate and was leading the operation.
Speaking during the operation, Inspector Bruce Prendergast said:
Acting on community intelligence, we have tonight executed a warrant under the misuse of drugs act.
The information that we had received was that there was drug dealing activity at the premises, potentially involving staff members.
The intention here is to follow up on that community information and ensure that Harrogate maintains a safe night out and is as far as possible a drug free and safe environment for people to enjoy a night out.
Entering the club at around 11:30pm the club was cleared of around 50 people. They were asked to leave straight away and not allowed to collect bags or coats from the cloakroom. The search continued for 2 hours on the main floor of the club before the public were then allowed back while the search continued in other floors for most of the night.
Following the search, Inspector Prendergast commented:
Investigations are now ongoing following the successful policing operation. A number of items have been seized, with early indications are that the search of the premises was justified. Licensing officers will continue to work with the club to assist the owner in rectifying the problems that have been identified.
This sends out a clear warning to people involved in dealing drugs in any licenced premises in the town. This was a significant show of force by the Harrogate Police Service, and demonstrates our commitment to tacking drugs issues in the town.
If needed, we will obtain further warrants and conduct searches in other licensed premises, with those involved with drugs being dealt with appropriately.
A spokesperson for the Management team running the club said:
As you are aware on Friday night over 40 police officers raided the Viper rooms in Harrogate one of Yorkshire’s best reputed nightclubs, and served a warrant to search for evidence of staff dealing in cocaine.
We are very pleased and so proud that following a thorough search by police of all staff members, staff areas and belongings there was no evidence found at all to implicate any of the staff members, door staff or management on duty on Friday night in the use of, or dealing in drugs.
The items found that were of concern were the property of a non-staff member.
We thank our team for their co operation in what was obviously a shocking and wholly unexpected event.
The venue reopened after 2 hours and the completion of the comprehensive search and we resumed business as usual. No arrests were made, no charges ensued and minor amendments have already been actioned to our already rigorous control procedures.
On entry of police to the venue the door staff were informed that they didn’t form part of the enquiry despite the operation requiring 40+ officers to enforce which is incredible as any significant drug dealing operation in a club would have to involve door staff – no customers were detained either
As professional operators, we will, as usual, fully co operate with any statutory authority in seeking to develop a safer late night economy, and have already taken remedial action.
We were as shocked, as the general public and our customers were, that our venue should have been singled out for such a dramatic event and the lack of evidence recovered to support the reasons for which the warrant was issued would tend to justify our shock and disappointment.
We were very disappointed that the police had seen it appropriate to ask the press to join them in the raid which is contrary to Home Office guidelines on such events and risks the operation being viewed as a public relations exercise.
We can only assume that the operation was undertaken in good faith but with inaccurate intelligence, which is sad for all concerned at a time when police resources are so scarce. We assume that the police will now question the motives and integrity of their intelligence sources.
We would like to express our most sincere thanks to the members of the licencing department of North Yorkshire Police who exhibited empathy and professionalism throughout this stressful event and for which we were very grateful.