Pub landlord faces first smoking breach case

LONDON (Reuters) - The first pub landlord charged with flouting the ban on smoking in public places pleaded not guilty in court on Friday.

A printer lays a no smoking sign alongside others at a sign shop in Bishops Stortford, June 29, 2007. The first pub landlord charged with flouting the ban on smoking in public places is due to appear in court on Wednesday, a council spokeswoman said. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Blackpool Council claims that Hamish Howitt allowed smokers to light up at his Happy Scots Bar just off the seaside resort’s six-mile long Promenade.

He pleaded not guilty to the original seven charges in addition to five new charges at Blackpool Magistrates’ Court. The case was adjourned until August 15.

He faces a total fine of 25,000 pounds if found guilty.

His wife, son and bar manager were also served a total of six summonses.

Since the smoking ban came into force on July 1, landlords have been legally obliged to stop customers from smoking inside their pubs or face a fine of up to 2,500 pounds.

Howitt has set up a political party called Fight Against Government Suppression (FAGS) to fight the ban and says he is prepared to go to jail.

“This ban is tantamount to a hate crime,” he told Reuters last month. “My pub is a last refuge for pro-freedom. I am not pro-smoking, but pro-freedom.”

He said on Friday that he had received 1,700 e-mails of support from around the world, including from Australia, Spain, Iceland and the United States since his case was publicised.

Compliance with the smoking ban has been high across England, according to local council officials, who police the smoke-free legislation.

Former Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy was warned by police after he was spotted having a cigarette out of a train window last month.

Former heavyweight boxer James Oyebola was shot at a bar and club in west London last week after asking customers to stop smoking. He died in hospital on Friday.