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O2 Academy to remain closed after Brixton crush, council rules

London’s Brixton O2 Academy will remain closed for at least three months, Lambeth Council has ruled. It comes after two people died and several were injured in a crowd surge in the foyer of the venue during a gig by Afro-pop singer Asake on 15 December.

Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson were fatally injured in the crush. Lambeth’s licensing sub-committee suspended the licence for the venue during a meeting earlier.

The third sold-out concert in a week by Nigerian artist Asake had to be cut short when a large number of people tried to enter the south London venue. Nursing graduate Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, from Newham, east London, was the mother of two children and Gaby Hutchinson, 23, from Gravesend in Kent, was a security contractor working at the venue.

Shortly after the crush, the council suspended the Brixton O2’s licence pending a full hearing by the sub-committee. The Met Police had said it would use the meeting to “seek a further suspension” – something the venue’s owner and operator, Academy Music Group, agreed with.

During the latest meeting, the Met told the committee the investigation had been challenging – involving statements from hundreds of potential witnesses, examining more than 500 sets of documents, reviewing social media content and analysing footage from more than 40 CCTV cameras.

The force stressed it was not possible to make a final decision on what should happen to the venue’s licence, until that investigation had progressed further.

“Until we know what happened, we can’t say what needs to be done differently,” the Met’s lawyer Gerald Gouriet KC told committee members, adding: “The answers won’t be known for some time.
Mr Gouriet said police were called by venue staff at 21:16 GMT after they had closed the doors due to large crowds outside.

“When they arrived, they found large-scale disorder, the crowd pushing against the doors, trying to force them open, which they eventually did, and when the doors were breached the crowd poured into the lobby towards the auditorium,” he said.

“A number of them fell to the floor. Several – we don’t yet know the total number and that will be found out as the inquiry proceeds – were injured as the crowd surged on and over those who had fallen.”

Mr Gouriet went on to say the full extent of the injuries caused by the crush was still unknown, but a third person remained critically ill in hospital.

Academy Music Group said it continued to offer its “sincere condolences” to the families of the people who died and those affected, adding this was the first time any of its venues had been subject to a “police review” since 2005.

The firm told the committee 650 shows had been staged at the venue since 2017 without significant incident.

However, the Met had told a previous meeting of the licensing committee there was a similar crush on 2 February 2020, when concerns were raised about the strength of the front doors, during a concert by Naira Marley, another Afrobeats singer.

Among the 2023 performances at the venue that have been cancelled are two gigs by the band Pendulum, which were due to take place on 5 and 6 March.

The band’s production director, Mark Ward, said O2 Academy Brixton was the “best-run venue in the country”, as reported by the Local Democracy Reporting Service, adding some of the issues at the site were “simply unavoidable results of awful things going on in wider society, as we’re seeing invasions of parliamentary spaces all over the world”.

He said: “I’m not belittling for a second that there needs to be an awful lot of attention paid to what went wrong and how to change that and approach it in the best way possible moving forward.”

Academy Music Group lawyer Stephen Walsh said the company was “committed” to learning from what had happened and would be applying to update, and vary, the licence when it put forward fresh conditions in the future. Committee members ruled that the venue should not reopen until 16 April at the earliest.

Source: BBC

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