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Company behind the Coyote Ugly Saloon in Cardiff fined £66,000 at Cardiff Magistrates Court

Swansea Audio Limited, which is the company behind the Coyote Ugly Saloon bar in Cardiff has been ordered to pay just under £70,000 at Cardiff Magistrates’ Court on December 12th for three health and safety offences.

December 13th, 2019

The sole director of Coyote Ugly Saloon bar, Mr Stephen Lewis, who has three similar businesses in Swansea, Manchester and Birmingham was unable to attend court due to ‘business interests in Singapore’.

 On October 4, 2017, the Health and Safety Team received a referral from the South Wales Police concerning an incident at Coyote Ugly Saloon when an employee, Katrina Sparks, had sustained deep lacerations to her right shoulder and breast area after misplacing her footing whilst dancing on the bar and landing on a customer’s wine glass.

Concerns were raised by the police about the number of incidents that were occurring at the venue. A review of the accident handbookSt Marys Street identified that another employee, Brittany Askew, had sustained a fracture to her back after slipping on the bar while dancing. On October 10, 2017, a council official carried an unannounced visit to the bar to investigate the concerns that had been raised. On arrival, the duty manager at the time, Christopher Young was asked to clarify the health and safety management arrangements at the business. Mr Young made it clear that he was not aware of any health and safety policy and confirmed, to the best of his knowledge, the delegation of health and safety roles and responsibilities wasn’t documented by the company.

By law, all businesses are required to report injuries to the local authority and when Mr Young was asked if he was aware of the legislation, he acknowledged that he was, but was unaware of the types of injuries that should be reported and who he should report them to. When asked to supply the risk assessment for people dancing on the bar, the investigating officer concluded that the protocols that were in place were not ‘suitable or sufficient.’

As the investigation progressed, Brittany Askew, who was off work for 12 weeks following her fall when she was dancing on the bar gave a voluntary statement to the investigating officer. Miss Askew explained that at the time of her accident in May 2017, it was common practice for bar staff to be permitted to drink alcohol whilst on duty and it was common for the dancers, known as Coyotes to throw pitches of water over each other during certain dance routines. 

It was also revealed that bar staff and management would often spray staff with the soda syphons at the main bar, having little regard to the risk of slips and falls.Clive Pursey, prosecuting on behalf of Cardiff Council explained to the court that there was a ‘wilful blindness’ on behalf of the company as they did not see an ‘obvious foreseeable risk’ and that any credible business which takes these matters seriously would have ‘proper risk assessments in place.’

Defence Counsel Oliver Powell accepted that the risk assessment wasn’t sufficient or specific enough. Apologising on behalf of the company, Mr Powell said: “The Company is bitterly disappointed that these incidents occurred and has genuine remorse.”

Mr Powell apologised to both of the ladies who were harmed and explained that one of the ladies is still working for the company and in the three years that has passed since the incident took place has worked her way up in the company and is now managing the Coyote Ugly Saloon in Birmingham. The defence made it clear to the court that these incidents did take place when the business was in its infancy and that there have been no repeat offences since these incidents occurred and the correct detailed risk assessments are now in place through a new Health and Safety Handbook.

District Judge Khan summed up the case by explaining that Coyote Ugly Saloon is a successful growing business and that the concept has been taken from a successful film in America. Judge Khan made it clear to the court that by trying to make the bar a replication of the movie, health and safety considerations had got lost.Judge Khan pointed out that the unique selling point of the business was ‘dancing on the bar’ and ‘having fun and drinking alcohol’ rather than the real risk to staff.

Judge Khan concluded that there was no malicious or deliberate intent on behalf of the company but the emphasis was clearly on the customer experience rather than the safety of the staff.

After the case was concluded, a Cardiff Council spokesman said:

“Shared Regulatory Services takes all health and safety matters very seriously. Officers will follow up on any intelligence received and investigate with a view of taking these matters to court.

Swansea Audio Limited was fined £66,000, ordered to pay £3,315 in costs as well as a victim surcharge of £170.