A London strip club owner allegedly used hidden cameras to expose licensing breaches at a rival venue in a bid to have it closed down.
John McKeown, who owns the SophistiCats lap dancing club on Brewer Street, Soho, is accused of orchestrating a “prolonged covert operation” to expose his competitors.
He allegedly used former dancers and a private investigator to cause and expose breaches.
The claims have been made by his former business partner Simon Langer and are contained within a report that went before Westminster City Council’s licensing committee on Thursday.
Mr Langer claimed Mr McKeown arranged for individuals – including a journalist – to be equipped with hidden cameras before being sent into rival clubs to find breaches of their sexual entertainment venue (SEV) licence.
In at least one instance, footage from a visit to the Platinum Lace lap dancing club in London’s West End resulted in national newspaper coverage in 2016.
It alleged that dancers were “encouraging” customers to “grope” them.
The Windmill, in Soho, was also allegedly targeted and ultimately lost its SEV licence after breaches were found in subsequent investigations.
Mr Langer’s claims form part of an objection by retired Metropolitan Police detective chief superintendent Tony Nash to Mr McKeown’s application for a new premises licence at his Brewer Street venue.
Mr Nash claims that Mr McKeown is “unfit” to hold a premises license.
It comes as another SophistiCats club on Eversholt Street in Camden was stripped of its SEV licence in January this year following allegations customers were fleeced out of their money while drunk.
The Westminster council licensing committee heard Mr McKeown is a director of a different company that owns the club in Camden.
In a witness statement, Mr Langer claimed Mr McKeown had been “proactively seeking” a way to gain a commercial advantage over his competitors since October 2014 through the idea of objecting to the annual renewal of their SEV licence.
He said: “Mr McKeown was ‘cocky’ about his plan and made it quite clear he wanted the other clubs closed down so that we could be rid of the opposition.”
Mr Langer claimed that in October 2015 it was arranged for a journalist, along with two former SophistiCats dancers, to gain evidence of any licence breaches at Platinum Lace by using another dancer they knew who worked there.
He alleged Mr McKeown explained to the journalist, who would be equipped with a hidden camera, that “between them all (the dancers and the reporter), they would create and witness breaches to ensure this was achieved”.
Mr Langer further claimed he was asked by Mr McKeown to find a private investigator “who had credibility” with Westminster council’s licensing department to visit the same club.
Meanwhile, Mr Nash, who retired from the Met in 2017, said in a witness statement he was told in 2018 by Mr Langer’s then wife that Mr McKeown had been “instigating a prolonged covert operation” to try and undermine competitors’ venue licences.
Mr Nash said he started investigating the claims on behalf of Simon Warr, who owned Platinum Lace.
At the licensing hearing on Thursday, Michael Bromley-Martin QC, representing Sophisticats, said the evidence from Mr Nash and Mr Langer were not “relevant representations” to the application.
In regard to claims that Mr McKeown sought to expose breaches in other clubs, Mr Bromley-Martin said his purpose was “not to fabricate evidence, but to find out if other clubs were observing their licensing conditions”.
He added: “Mr McKeown makes no apology for having done what he has done, that is to bring to the attention of the authorities breaches of the licensing conditions of those two SEV licences (Platinum Lace and The Windmill) in so far as he was involved in that activity in any event.”
Mr Bromley-Martin denied claims that Mr McKeown had sought to get the other clubs closed down.
A decision on Mr McKeown’s application, which according to a SophistiCats spokeswoman will see a new “pop-up club” launched at the existing venue, will be made by the licensing committee in the next five days.