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Brixton Academy: Met wants new operator to run venue

The view of the Metropolitan Police, at a two-day hearing to determine the fate of the key London venue, is contrary to both industry figures and Lambeth Council itself

By Lisa Henderson on 13 Sep 2023

Brixton Academy

In a stance at odds with both the local council and senior industry figures, London’s Metropolitan Police says it does not want O2 Academy Brixton to continue operating the O2 Academy Brixton, despite a consensus that the venue should reopen.

The 5,000-capacity Academy Music Group (AMG) venue had its premises licence suspended after the events of 15 December 2022, when two people died in a crush at a show by singer/songwriter Asake.

During a two-day licensing hearing this week, AMG told the committee it had developed new safety measures in an effort to have the venue’s licence restored, including stronger doors, a better queuing system and more secure ticketing.

However, the Met said it has lost confidence in the Live Nation-owned operator, which has run the Academy for 20 years and also operates 18 music venues across the UK.

“The police have brought a review of the licence because they think that the Academy Music Group shouldn’t be the licensee”

Gerald Gouriet KC, representing the Met, said: “The police do not wish to close the Academy. The police have brought a review of the licence because they think that the Academy Music Group shouldn’t be the licensee. 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.”

Lambeth council, on the other hand, said that is was open “in principle” to the company resuming operations at the venue. The council’s barrister, Horatio Waller QC, said the new measures have been “independently audited” by consultants and commended as “comprehensive and robust… the tragedy likely would not have occurred if that system was in place.”

Industry figures appearing in support of the venue and its operators went further. Mark Davyd, CEO of the Music Venue Trust, said that having reviewed the Academy’s proposals, it would be unlikely that any potential future operator would put forward 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.

“AMG is a professional, competent and compliant operator delivering several hundred shows safely every year”

Michael Kill, CEO of the Night Time Industries Association, 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.”

NTIA had previously launched a campaign alongside Save Our Scene and Brixton BID to keep the O2 Academy in Brixton open.

Lambeth council’s representative, 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 15 December reminds us.”

“It is our view that the operation plan before you today for consideration, is an exemplar of best practice”

Gabrielle Hutchinson, aged 23, and 33-year-old Rebecca Ikumelo lost their lives as a result of the 15 December incident. A third person, a 21-year-old woman, remains in hospital in a critical condition.

Representatives of the council’s licensing authority said on Tuesday they believed the venue would be able to reopen, subject to conditions.

The committee will begin its deliberations on whether to grant a new licence for the venue today (13 September) and a decision on the future of the venue will be made “within five working days”.

A statement from Academy Music Group is expected once the licensing decision has been announced.

 


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