London’s O2 Academy in Brixton has been given the green light to keep its licence and re-open, following closure due to a fatal crowd crush last year.
- READ MORE: Artists and industry speak out to save Brixton Academy: “It’d be a tragedy to lose such an iconic venue”
The hearing into the future of the venue began on Monday (September 11), to determine whether or not the Academy Music Group (AMG) could 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 reportedly made a push for the location to close its doors for good.
Now, Lambeth Council have announced today (Friday September 15) that the Academy can reopen, provided that it meets 77 “extensive and robust” conditions “designed to promote public safety”.
Potential re-opening dates are yet to be shared. NME has approached Academy Music Group for comment.
DJ and London Night Czar, Amy Lamé, commented on what the ruling meant for Brixton and for the capital’s music scene.
“Firstly, my heart goes out to the families and loved ones of Gaby and Rebecca and the woman who remains in a critical condition in hospital following the awful events at O2 Brixton Academy,” she wrote on X (formerly Twitter).
“I know how cherished the O2 Brixton Academy is by artists, fans and the local community and how important it is to the UK’s live music scene. I am pleased that Lambeth Council are satisfied that the O2 Brixton Academy can be safely reopened by Academy Music Group.”
She added: “The decision today rightly follows a detailed examination of evidence and the presentation of new plans that will ensure nothing like the tragic incident last year can ever happen again.”
The decision today rightly follows a detailed examination of evidence and the presentation of new plans that will ensure nothing like the tragic incident last year can ever happen again. 3/3
— Amy Lamé (@amylame) September 15, 2023
The Music Venue Trust also said that they “welcomed the decision” from the council to reopen the Academy, describing the gig space as one with “enormous cultural significance to its local community, to music fans, and to the wider live music ecosystem”.
“We look forward to supporting all those involved in the safe, successful relaunch of this iconic venue.
Night Time Industry Association CEO Michael Kill agreed, saying that the decision marked “a momentous milestone in safeguarding this cherished landmark”.
“Our profound appreciation goes out to the countless supporters and stakeholders who rallied behind us during this critical juncture,” said Kill.
- READ MORE: Brixton Academy refuse racial profiling and talk ticketing and improving safety at hearing
“Brixton Academy has consistently held a special place in the hearts of music aficionados, and its cultural significance is immeasurable. We have consistently advocated for its safe reopening, and today’s decision reaffirms our unwavering commitment to ensuring its continued success as a hub for live music and entertainment.”
He continued: “We also recognise the profound responsibility that accompanies this, and acknowledge the tragic events of last December, which resulted in the loss of two lives.
“We are resolute in our commitment to supporting the implementation of the agreed stringent safety measures to prevent any such tragedy from recurring. Our paramount concern remains the safety and enjoyment of all those who enjoy nightlife.”
George Fleming, from the campaign group Save Our Scene, added: “We are feeling a huge sense of relief that Brixton Academy is safeguarded for the future, as will many others.”
“We recognise this was a tragic case and welcome all of the new safety measures which have been implemented by AMG and Lambeth Council. The public support for this venue has been immense and we’d like to thank everyone who rallied together and signed the various petitions and campaigns.”
Earlier this week, the sub-committee heard how Brixton Academy is “a venue of economic and cultural importance”, with AMG arguing that “the Academy is not one of those venues on the police radar”.
“In 2022, the venue held 174 shows, 108 sell-outs,” said Philip Kolvin QC, speaking on behalf on AMG. “During the whole of that year, there was one police call for assistance. Every venue has to call the police from time-to-time.”
The hearing was then told of the venue’s refusal of racial profiling and AMG’S ambitious plans to improve ticketing and safety, before things concluded with Lambeth Council saying that they supported the re-opening of Brixton Academy “in principle” if a series of conditions are met. The Met Police meanwhile, denied that they were looking to close the venue – but say that they believe current operator AMG “shouldn’t be the licensee” if the Academy is to open its doors again.
Earlier this week saw Lambeth Council barrister Horatio Waller QC laid 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.”
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 Kolvin QC also discussed suggested improved admittance procedures at Brixton Academy, and how gig-goers would be “removed rapidly” from the queue without the correct ticket if the venue were to re-open.
“There were some allegations made in this case, which may well be investigated by the SIA, that people were being allowed in by security without tickets,” said Mr Kolvin QC. “We don’t have evidence that it was happening on the night, but we have [security operators] Showsec in – who are a different company – and now the ticketing is done by venue staff so my client has total control of the operation, using the new Safe Tix system developed by Ticketmaster, which is the most secure way of checking people in yet because it uses a revolving barcode.”
As well as the condition that “no one gets into the venue unticketed”, Mr Kolvin QC also explained how they had installed 16 new CCTV cameras outside the building and would be looking to increase the base number of medical staff at gigs, improving their radio communication between staff, having security with body-worn cameras, and strengthening the doors of the venue among other sweeping improvements regarding queuing and barriers.
Since the venue’s closure in December, an online petition was 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 this week’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.”