Lambeth Council have said they support the reopening of Brixton Academy “in principle” if a series of conditions are met.
The second and final day of a licensing hearing into the venue’s future was held at Lambeth Town Hall today (September 12). The hearing will determine whether or not the Academy Music Group (AMG) can continue to operate their licence at the music venue, after it was forced to shut its doors following a fatal crowd crush that occurred at an Asake concert back in December 2022.
The event — which left two dead and one in a critical condition — ultimately led to the Academy having its licence suspended. Gabrielle Hutchinson, aged 23, and 33-year-old Rebecca Ikumelo lost their lives as a result. The Metropolitan Police then made a push for the location to close its doors for good.
After the morning was spent in private session, today’s public afternoon session opened with Lambeth Council barrister Horatio Waller QC laying out conditions for the potential re-opening of the venue, while the Metropolitan Police stated their opposition to it opening its doors again under the stewardship of AMG.
Waller said that venue operator AMG have performed a “complete overhaul” of their security procedures and attitude towards risk assessments since the tragedy in December. These were, he continued, “independently audited” by consultants and commended as “comprehensive and robust”. Waller added that the results of these findings have given police “confidence to work with AMG to help develop their proposals further.”
The council “supports, in principle, the re-opening of the venue” based upon new conditions, Waller said. These conditions include a “new, revised system for ingress [entry] into the venue” and the introduction of new barriers “positioned on the highway,” for which a temporary traffic regulation order would be required.
“This is much more comprehensive, prescriptive and controlled than the system that existed on December 15,” Waller continued. “The tragedy likely would not have occurred if that system was in place.”
Despite the council’s supposed support of re-opening stated during the hearing by Waller, licensing sub-committee chair, Councillor Fred Howell, made clear that this did not mean that was the final decision of the committee, and that a decision is still to be made.
Waller added that the licensing authority “entirely agree” with statements made yesterday from the venue about profiling risks at gigs because of genre or racial profiling. On the first day of the hearing, AMG’s legal representative, Mr Philip Kolvin QC said: “My client is probably the leading host of music of Black origin in this country,” said Mr Kolvin QC. “That’s a position that it values and would like to continue to be”. Of the 13 different risks assessed by the Academy, he said that “none of them are racial”.
“This new process should not lead to a tunnel vision situation where risk is associated with genre or race,” Waller agreed today.
Elsewhere in his statement, Waller said that it is “simply not adequate to assume that crowds of a significant size could never develop again outside this venue [if] it’s to re-open. To deny that possibility, however remote, is to fail to plan properly. Things can always go wrong, as the night of December 15 reminds us.”
In closing arguments, Mr Kolvin QC then discussed the installation of strengthened doors at the venue. “At the time of this incident, the doors were unable to withstand a mass and violent attack,” he said. “In other words, the premises were not a fortress, they were a concert hall. Even if you consider the doors should have been more robust at an earlier stage, that is a matter of blame which is for other processes to investigate. It does not require these premises to shut down any more than any other public or private premises that are compulsorily closed following accidents, even terrible accidents.”
“The doors have now been strengthened so as to be resilient against pressure, even if it did occur,” he added.
Mr Kolvin QC also said that AMG are not “at loggerheads” with the Metropolitan Police, but he believes that the Police “view themselves [as] at loggerheads with us.
“The door is wholly open for when the Met Police choose to step through it,” he added, saying that AMG will give police “as much of an overview of the operation as they wish to have” and that they have “offered [police] a veto over events. They don’t want it, but it was a symbol of my client’s trust in the police.”
In response, Gerald Gouriet KC, legal counsel for the Met Police, dismissed reports in the media and online that the force want to see the O2 Academy Brixton shut permanently.
“The police do not wish to close the Academy,” he said in a closing argument. “I’ve read again and again in the press and on social media that the police are trying to shut down the Academy permanently. That is simply not the case.”
Mr Gouriet KC went on to say that, in this morning’s closed session, the police shared their hope for the venue to return, but not with AMG as its licence holder. “The police have brought a review of the licence because they think that the Academy Music Group shouldn’t be the licensee,” he said. “I am not permitted to go further into the reasons of why the police say so, but I do wish that no-one carries the idea from this room that the police are trying to shut down the Academy. They simply aren’t.”
Following the conclusion of the public hearing, Lambeth Council have advised that a decision on the future of the venue will be made “within five working days”.
Elsewhere at yesterday’s hearing, the sub-committee heard how Brixton Academy is “a venue of economic and cultural importance”. Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, discussed how they venue plays “an important part in the emotional, physical and mental wellbeing of the Brixton and London communities,” and that the venue and its owners have “aided the police and local authorities to manage and prevent public nuisance, mitigate crimes like anti-social behaviour, noise and disturbance to the peace.”
Kill also called the Academy Music Group as “a professional, competent and compliant operator delivering several hundred shows safely every year.
“They are a trusted and safe partner for some of the biggest agents, promoters and show organisers across the world, and have an excellent reputation within the industry,” he said. “As an operator within Brixton, they have played a huge part in shaping communities, providing an outlet for youth and grassroots culture, as well as an accessible, inclusive and safe space for people who live, work and seek entertainment and leisure within the area.”
Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, also spoke of how having reviewed the Academy’s proposals, it would be unlikely that any potential future operator would come up with a safer plan for re-opening.
“It is our view that the operation plan before you today for consideration, is an exemplar of best practice,” he said. “It has been specifically developed and tailored to take account of the layout of the building, the nature of the surrounding area, and significantly enhanced measures for event management, which address possible future usage.
“It fully addresses the risk identified by the terrible tragedy in December 2022, and provides a comprehensive approach which mitigates and manages those risks to the fullest extent possible. It does so with full acknowledgement of the duties of the operator. It is therefore our professional opinion that no other operator would put forward an operating plan which materially exceeded the risk management and safety measures contained in the proposal before you.”
Since the venue’s closure in December, an online petition has been launched to counteract the closure while various artists and industry professionals also spoke out against the potential shutting down of the venue. So far it has attracted over 116,000 signatures.
Stuart O’Brien, who started the petition, told yesterday’s hearing: “We don’t close sporting venues when tragedy strikes. What we do is take measures nationwide that keep everyone safe when attending those events. The same needs to happen here.
“It is not the building that is to blame for this tragedy, and providing the owner acts on the recommendations that are put to them, I’m sure we can maintain a safe environment for everyone in the future.”
The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) also launched a campaign alongside Save Our Scene and Brixton BID to keep the O2 Academy in Brixton open. You can support their campaign here.