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Brixton Academy bosses outline safety changes as hearing to decide venue’s future begins

The two-day hearing got underway this morning (September 11)

By Joe Goggins

Brixton Academy, November 2019
The venue's future has been uncertain since December's tragedy. (Photo: Drew de F Fawkes/Wikimedia Commons)

Councillors in London are poised to make a decision about the future of Brixton Academy, after a two-day hearing into its license began today (September 11).

The legendary venue has been closed since December of last year, when security worker Gabrielle Hutchinson and mother-of-two Rebecca Ikumelo were killed in a deadly crush at an Asake concert. A third person, who was seriously injured, remains in hospital. In January, Lambeth Council suspended the venue’s license for three months, whilst investigations into the cause of the crush continued. In April, the Metropolitan Police applied to have the license permanently revoked.

This morning, Philip Kolvin KC, representing the venue’s operator, Academy Music Group (AMG) opened the hearing at Lambeth Town Hall by paying tribute to the victims. He went on to discuss the risk assessment carried out in advance of the Asake show on December 15. He said that a lower risk level was assigned to the concert because it had been judged to be ‘afropop’, rather than afrobeat, and because a majority female crowd had been expected.

Kolvin went on to reveal that AMG has hosted 45,000 shows in 15 years and welcomed some 39 million people across its 18 venues. They have hosted another 1,642 shows since the Asake tragedy, with Kolvin explaining how AEG “take security very seriously and have no interest in cutting corners”.

The afternoon session saw Kolvin lay out in detail AMG’s plans to boost security at the Academy, saying that it had done “all in its power to analyse what went wrong,” and spent more than £1.2 million already during the closure on new safety measures. Showsec will take over the security operation at the venue, taking over from AP Security, with Kolvin saying: “We’ve cleaned out all the management and security…we’ve just brought in probably the most reputable company in the business.” The venue’s total number of security cameras will be raised from 78 to 110, he added.

He also alluded to suggestions that ticketless fans gained access to the venue on the night of the crush, saying “we don’t have evidence that that was happening”, and also claiming that the new cameras would capture ticket scans. “Ticket fraud is an issue in the industry, [AMG] hates it. They hate it for financial reasons but in this case they hate it also for security reasons. There just will not be a way into this venue without an authorised ticket.”

Elsewhere, Kolvin detailed a proposed new system for more detailed risk assessment on a show-by-show basis, which would take crowd demographics into account; the assessments would be shared with the council and Met Police. Subcommittee chairman Fred Cowell raised concerns that the system could become “a proxy for racial discrimination.”

The venue also plans to install stronger doors and increase the numbers of medical staff and body-worn cameras, as well as install improved lighting in Astoria Walk, the side street from which the overcrowding stemmed. In conclusion, Kolvin called the Academy “the pride and joy of Brixton” and “a place of celebration and national importance.

The subcommittee heard from a number of individuals making submissions in support of AMG, including Michael Kill, the CEO of the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), and Michael Harvey-Bray of promoter Wasserman Music, who called the venue “best in class”, citing the success of last year’s three-night stand by Fred again.., which took place just days before the crush. The hearing continues tomorrow, when the Met and the licensing authority make their arguments in opposition to the reinstatement of the venue’s license.

At that earlier licensing meeting, lawyers representing the Met claimed that a crowd of around 1000 people outside the venue caused “large-scale disorder” that eventually led to its doors being forced open. Since, NTIA has urged fans to help save Brixton Academy by expressing support for their lobbying efforts.

A decision is due within five working days of the hearing concluding. Academy Music Group, which operates Brixton Academy, is arguing that it can safely reopen with the appropriate changes. Amy Lamé, London’s Night Czar, issued a statement on X in support of the venue, which you can see above. The Met, meanwhile, has previously argued that that it has “lost confidence” in the ability of the venue to operate safely. 

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson who lost their lives, as well as with the person who is still in hospital, and all those suffering the trauma of witnessing such distressing scenes at one of our borough’s live music venues,” said Cllr Mahamed Hashi, Lambeth’s Cabinet Member for Safer Communities, ahead of the hearing. “The licensing sub-committee has a duty to take such steps as are appropriate and proportionate to promote the licensing objectives including public safety. The council will fully play its role in achieving this aim.”

Last month, Asake played his first London show since the tragedy, and paid tribute to the victims.