Tuesday May 1st By David Horne
Bar owner Brian Galbraith has put his election campaign on the back burner after finding himself locked out of his premises. He has been running the Stones pub and restaurant, in Middle Row, Chipping Norton, for six years, but the popular town centre meeting place is now locked up, with customers wondering what has happened to their favourite watering hole - which takes its name from the nearby Rollright Stones, featured on the bar's signs.
Mr Galbraith, 62, who has been a town councillor for the past four years, freely admits he owes his landlords between 4,000 and 5,000 and that legally he "might not have a leg to stand on". The locks have been changed after bailiffs took possession of the bar and yesterday Mr Galbraith was talking to his solicitor and seeing if there were alternative premises in the town to move his business to. He said: "It's a shame for our regulars. It's a good town talking-shop, a place for a bit of craic. This came as a complete shock and I certainly didn't want it while standing for re-election to the council.
"More important, there are four other people, bar and kitchen staff, and several part-timers, who are out of work." Mr Galbraith is a Chippy First independent councillor and the bar has become the meeting place for other candidates to talk tactics and enjoy a pint or two.
Customer Dick Palmer, of Webb Crescent, Chipping Norton, is the manager of the Thresher's off-licence in nearby Moreton-in-Marsh and delivered wine to the bar last Monday. He said: "Early on Tuesday morning the bailiffs moved in. I'm just shocked, surprised and disappointed, like all other regulars. It's a friendly, very pleasant place to be, not cliquey. Some of us will be forced to use other pubs, but Stones is our place, because of its general ambience and friendliness."
Mr Galbraith said: "I was in talks with the landlord's solicitors and admit I owe several thousand pounds in back rent. According to the lease, it looks like they're entitled to take the lease back if the rent's unpaid for 14 days. But this is a seasonal trade. We're just coming into the tourist season, when takings go right up and there would be no problem. It's a manageable amount."
The bar's landlord is a firm on the town's Cromwell Business Park, Central Electronic Trading Agency (CETA). Gemma Hartley, a spokesman for Central Electronic's solicitors, Brookstreet Des Roches, of Witney, said: "This matter is entirely confidential and I doubt whether my client would want to say anything."