Brixton Academy allowed to reopen after two killed in fatal crowd crush at Asake gig

15 September 2023, 17:32 | Updated: 15 September 2023, 18:16

Brixton Academy has been allowed to reopen
Brixton Academy has been allowed to reopen. Picture: Getty/Alamy/Handout

By Fraser Knight

The iconic O2 Academy Brixton will be allowed to reopen with conditions after councillors agreed to reinstate its licence.

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Academy Music Group says it’s made significant changes to the venue’s security arrangements since a huge crush in December killed two people and left a third in a critical condition.

Security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, and Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, were killed when fans without tickets tried to force their way into a show by Nigerian artist Asake.

Cllr Dr Mahamed Hashi, Lambeth’s Cabinet Member for Safer Communities said: "After a two-day hearing Lambeth Council’s Licensing Sub-Committee has permitted the O2 Brixton Academy to re-open, but only once it has met 77 extensive and robust new conditions designed to promote public safety, including the safety of both visitors and employees."

Security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, died in the crush
Security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, died in the crush. Picture: Handout

Brixton Academy is owned by Academy Music Group (AMG), which runs 18 live music venues across the UK, including three others in London.

The operators initially agreed to a three month suspension of their licence before the Met Police then submitted an application to have it revoked altogether.

During a two day hearing before councillors this week, Gerald Gouriet KC, representing the Met, said the force is not trying to shut down the venue but that it didn’t believe AMG should be in charge of it.

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"The police do not wish to close the Academy... they believe AMG Ltd shouldn't be the licensee," he said.

While in their application to review AMG’s licence, the force’s licensing officer for Lambeth said: “The MPS has lost confidence in the Premise Licence Holder. 

“Regrettably, the agreed ‘variation solution’ suggested to the sub-committee has not been successful in remedial measures which need to be in place before the Academy can safely re-open.”

Two people died in the crush
Two people died in the crush. Picture: Alamy

AMG’s lawyer Philip Kolvin KC revealed they had wiped the slate clean since then, clearing out and replacing the whole managerial and security teams.

He said the group had worked with industry-leading professionals to create a new procedure when it came to security, ticketing and first aid.

Businesses in Brixton had raised concerns at the possible extended closure of the O2 Academy, telling LBC they were losing a huge amount of money already, with events at the venue suspended.

Rosa, who works as a newsagent on the same street, said they used to take up to £1,500 more on a show night, which they haven’t seen since it was shut in December, saying it’s had a ‘big impact’.

While Brixton Business Improvement District (BID) also started a campaign alongside the Night Time Industries Association (NTIA) to fight for the future of the Academy.

Rebecca Ikumelo
Rebecca Ikumelo. Picture: police handout

Following the decision of the Licensing Sub-Committee, Superintendent Gabriel Cameron, Lambeth Neighbourhood Police lead, said: "Our thoughts today are with the loved ones of Rebecca Ikumelo, Gaby Hutchinson and the young woman who remains critically injured."

He continued: "We will work with the applicant and Lambeth Council to ensure the public can once again enjoy events at the Academy - but in an environment where their safety is paramount.“It has always been the aim of the Met Police to ensure that the venue is operated safely for the public, and it is run by a licensee who will take all necessary steps to ensure this is the case.

"It has never been our aim to ask for the venue itself to be permanently closed. We absolutely recognise the cultural importance of it and its place at the heart of Lambeth."

A spokesperson for Brixton Academy said: “O2 Academy Brixton will be able to open again. We are immensely grateful to Lambeth Council and Lambeth Licensing Sub-Committee.

"Chair Councillor Fred Cowell and Councillors Bray and Garden spent a great deal of time, thought and consideration assessing both the variation to the licence and the case by the Metropolitan Police. We thank all parties involved in consideration of this matter.

“We continue to be devastated by the events of last December. Our heartfelt condolences remain with the family and friends of Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson. What happened was and is a tragedy and we are committed to ensuring that it can never be repeated.

“Over the past nine months, the venue’s importance to the local community and the live music scene in the UK has been made clear through first-hand professional testimony, campaigns, and petitions as well as economic assessments demonstrating the financial impact to the surrounding area caused by the closure.

“Academy Music Group is determined to learn all appropriate lessons from the night of 15 December 2022. Working at a senior level with experts across all disciplines, AMG presented a comprehensive, multi-faceted response for the licensing authorities to support their case for the safe and secure reopening of the venue. We appreciate having had the opportunity to present these detailed proposals and revised licence conditions at the hearing and we are very grateful they met with the approval of the Licensing Sub-Committee.

“As the Licensing Sub Committee knows, the venue must implement all the new conditions and will re-open at first with test events. The commitment we give to work in close partnership with all the responsible authorities as we re-open is a serious and sincere one.

“There will be announcements on activity and a timeline in due course.  We look forward to welcoming fans back to this iconic venue.”

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