Brixton Academy: Why have Met Police called for closure of the historic venue?

·4-min read
Brixton Academy, which was first opened as a cinema in 1929, has become one of London’s leading music venues since becoming a concert hall in 1983  (PA Wire)
Brixton Academy, which was first opened as a cinema in 1929, has become one of London’s leading music venues since becoming a concert hall in 1983 (PA Wire)

The O2 Academy Brixton is facing an uncertain future after the Metropolitan Police called for its licence to be permanently revoked following the deaths of two people last year.

The south London venue could be closed permanently if the Met Police gets its wish after December’s tragedy.

Lambeth councillors in January temporarily suspended its licence for three months while inquiries into its safety took place.

Here’s all you need to know about Brixton Academy, what happened there last year and the Met Police’s response.

Who owns Brixton Academy?

Academy Music Group (AMG) owns and runs the venue, which has won the NME Best Venue award 12 times since 1994 and hosted more than 50 live albums. Brixton Academy opened in 1929 as a cinema, before being converted into a discotheque in 1972. It became a concert hall in 1983.

AMG also owns the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and other O2 Academy venues in Islington, Bournemouth, Glasgow, Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool, Leicester, Sheffield and others.

AP Security is in charge of the venue’s security.

What happened at Brixton Academy?

Security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, and Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, died in hospital after sustaining injuries in a crush at the venue. This came after fans tried to get in to see Nigerian Afrobeat singer Asake’s gig on December 15.

Paramedics treated a further 10 people at the scene of incident, which was blamed on overcrowding.

Police began an investigation shortly after the tragedy. The Security Industry Authority (SIA) has also launched an inquiry into corruption allegations made following the crowd crush.

The BBC’s File On 4 programme in January reported that a security guard had said some staff members would allow “a couple of hundred people into the venue in exchange for cash.”

Why does the Metropolitan Police say Brixton Academy must close?

The force told the PA news agency in a statement: “On Monday, January 16, the licence of the O2 Academy Brixton was suspended for three months.

“On 14 April, the Met Police submitted an application for a review of [the] premises licence to Lambeth council and will be seeking a revocation of the licence. This matter will be decided at a future council sub-committee hearing on a date to be confirmed.”

The Guardian reported that about 1,000 people were outside the venue on the night of the concert. It said police found “large-scale disorder”, with crowds eventually pushing the doors open. The Guardian quoted Gerald Gouriet KC, who represented the Met Police at the licensing meeting. The newspaper said reports of ticketless fans being outside the venue had been questioned by witnesses.

What has Brixton Academy said?

A spokesperson for the venue’s owner, AMG, said: “AMG has co-operated fully with the Metropolitan police and Lambeth council since the tragedy at Brixton occurred.

“We have had regular meetings and discussions with the Metropolitan police and Lambeth council at which we have presented detailed proposals that we believe will enable the venue to reopen safely.

“AMG has been awaiting feedback on those proposals for several weeks and looks forward to hearing from the police as soon as possible in constructive terms.”

What do campaigners say about Brixton Academy?

More than 50,000 people at the time of writing had signed a petition calling for the venue to stay open.

Stuart O’Brien, the organiser of the“Save Brixton Academy” petition, said on the website that “what happened there was a tragedy, but caused by people”.

He wrote:“Brixton Academy is an iconic London music venue and should this cease to be so, another part of the musical landscape and history is lost for ever.

“Revoke the security firm’s licence and bring in someone adequately recommended by the police… Bring in new security procedures including crowd control to ensure a repeat doesn’t happen.

“But let’s not turn this venue into soulless flats as would more than likely happen in the event of permanent closure.

“I personally have been to hundreds of gigs in my lifetime, many of them here and I have never once felt like safety was an issue. So please, let’s help keep music live and Save Brixton Academy!”

Meanwhile, one leading music industry boss called the venue the “best run in the UK.”

Mark Ward, production director for electronic rock band Pendulum, who were due to perform two sell-out shows at the venue on March 5 and 6, said: “I would far rather be bringing my two sold-out Pendulum shows to Brixton Academy than anywhere else and I can’t. We’re now taking 10,000 people into a venue that is less well-run than the one that has now been closed.

“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.”

Mr Ward was speaking at a Lambeth Council licensing meeting on January 16.