Supporters of a gay-friendly community pub in Ipswich yesterday staged a sit-in to show support for its landlord, as he was issued a court order, following notice to vacate by Punch Taverns.

James Iannone agreed a Tenancy at Will contract in January with Punch Taverns for the Grinning Rat pub in Ipswich, and said he had since helped to ensure that the pub was “thriving”.

He said he was given a week’s notice to hand over the keys to the pub and vacate two weeks ago, and that solicitors for Punch Taverns said he was to vacate by noon yesterday.

Mr Iannone has now been issued a court order, the first court date for which is 11 July, meaning the pub will remain open under current management until then.

Speaking to PinkNews, Mr Iannone said he had been told by a Punch Taverns area manager to “take your gay pub somewhere else”.

He continued, saying: “If it’s not broken, why fix it? The business is clearly viable.”

A spokesman from Punch taverns said the area manager had refuted the claim, however, saying: “The manager in question strongly refutes Mr Iannone’s version of events. Mr Iannone’s short-term agreement with Punch was on a temporary basis, giving either party the right to give immediate notice.

“After reviewing a business plan from another interested party, the commercial decision was made to recruit a different operator. In our recruitment process, we select licensees we believe to be the best operators and base our decision only on proposed business strategies. We have every confidence that the new operator will be able to take the pub from strength to strength and continue to serve the local community.”

The 37-year-old, backed by the pub’s regulars, said he was to stay where he was, and supporters had staged the the sit-in.

“I firmly believe I have a right to stay. I have done everything asked of me, I have improved the pub, done it up, decorated upstairs.”

Mr Iannone said he was told he would have a lease on the pub for a year, when he made a verbal agreement with Punch Taverns in January, but Punch Taverns has said leases are only given with written agreements.