A table-dancing bar in Covent Garden has pledged to join the battle against touts in the West End.
Secrets in Parker Street was granted a renewal of its sexual entertainments venue licence and a transfer of its licence to another company in its group after a lengthy hearing at Camden Council.
According to its website, the venue has “up to 40 of the most beautiful international performers in London, continuous stage entertainment and pole dancing”.
The venue has been shut since March 2020 when the first lockdown was ordered by the Prime Minister.
The police opposed the licence renewal and said they were concerned about touts operating in the area. Camden’s policy is to refuse new sexual entertainment venues, but not renewals.
Secrets lawyer Leo Charalambides told the sexual entertainment venues licensing sub-committee: “What we can see with sexual entertainment venues (SEVs) operating in this area, including Secrets, is that touts are an issue.”
He explained that the problem with touts arises when people leave late-night venues and are encouraged go to SEVs or even onto brothels elsewhere.
He added: “Once they are in the SEVs, we are also aware that criminal elements prey on those people when they leave – the touts again pounce – and what we find is that they then are being moved onto brothels in other areas.
“So what you have is a very clear ladder of criminality that occurs because of the late-night economy, because of the use of premises in the vicinity late at night, it attracts touts. The touts are there because of the SEVs.”
Two police officers were approached In February 2020 by a tout who was working for Secrets “and encouraged to go to the premises”.
Charalambides said the tout “was acting off-script”, adding: “Secrets themselves make no secret of the fact that there are touts and they agree that the problem need to be tackled. They want rid of it because its clearly having an adverse impact on their local environment too.”
He explained that touts were operating last September, at a time when Secrets was shut, and were still trying to get customers into SEVs.
“By having SEVs, which have this parasitic relationship with the touts, makes the SEVs inappropriate to the area,” he added.
The Covent Garden Community Association sent a statement explaining their concerns about touts.
One member said: “I am disturbed by the way in which I am approached by people making me offers of ‘girls’ when I am merely walking along the street in a Central London area in which there are many residents.”
Philip Kolvin QC for Secrets said the incident last year was a case of uacceptable use of a promoter who tried to attract someone on the street.
“My client deplores it, and will not be working with the promoter again,” he said. “It was not my client’s breach. My client does not employ people to tout in the streets – it thinks it is disgusting and wants it stopped.”
He said Secrets is “a victim of touts” and has asked for police help to deal with them. He explained that there is a difference between promoters who are allowed to go into venues with business cards and touts on the street.
The company has operated at several venues in London including in Hammersmith and on the Grays Inn Road and has never had a licence refusal in its 23-year history, Kolvin said.
He added that Secrets is “prepared to put its hands in its pockets” to help stop touting.
It is planning to spend £5,000 a week on a plan to prevent touting, with £10,000 to link into CCTV and £12,000 annual running costs.
He warned: “Once you’ve closed down the SEVs you’ll then have to target the nightclubs and the bars, and maybe when you’ve concreted the whole of the West End you’ll ask yourself why didn’t we actually deal with the problem.”
The committee was not unanimous in agreeing to the licence renewal with additional conditions. Permission to take business cards to other venues was also stopped.
Chairman Cllr Thomas Gardiner said: “We expect to see improvement.”