Police Licensing Act objections force Moonfest cancellation

September 2008

Live event industry

For the first time in the UK the police have used Section 160 (orders to close premises in an area experiencing disorder) of the Licensing Act 2003 to get a live festival performance stopped. Wiltshire Constabulary applied to the Magistrates to ban a festival appearance by Pete Doherty and his band Babyshambles on the grounds that there could be public disorder and applied to have the whole of the Friday of the Moonfest festival be scrapped due to crowd control issues. A Closure Order may be made by a Magistrates’ Court on application by the Police where the Court is of the opinion that closure is necessary in the interests of public safety because of order or likely disorder on the premises, or in the vicinity and relate to, the premises and/or an order is necessary to ensure no public nuisance is or is likely to be caused by noise coming from the premises. North Wiltshire Magistrates agreed to the police application to cancel the show on the Friday. The Police made no application for Saturday and Sunday which featured The Australian Pink Floyd, Ozric Tentacles, Zenyth, Curiosity Killed the Cat, Shakatak, Heaven 17, Go West and Imagination. The police showed Magistrates YouTube footage of Pete Doherty’s recent solo performance in July at the Royal Albert Hall to demonstrate the likelihood of a stage invasion, and cited possible violence and disorder by fans as the main reason for forcing the festival to drop the whole of Friday from the event. Chief Supt Julian Kirby, the divisional commander said “We became concerned because the organiser did not appear to have due cognisance of all the risks. We carried out an analysis of what Pete Doherty and his band does. What he does as part of his routine is to gee up the crowd. They speed up and then slow down the music and create a whirlpool effect in the crowd. They (the crowd) all get geed up and then they start fighting.”. Music website eFestivals commented that “this is despite the fact that at the Albert Hall gig there was no crowd barrier, a low stage, and the footage shows no sign of violence, merely a ‘stage invasion’ and say that the Festival argued that at the London concert, the event contained only Doherty fans and not a wider demographic of a festival crowd, that they would have a ‘mojo’ crowd barrier, and a higher stage. Festival organiser John Green, speaking exclusively to eFestivals said, “It’s absolutely obscene, I think the police have totally over reacted to what was going to be a fantastic evening.” He added that Wiltshire police had invited him into a meeting yesterday during recess and invited him to make a compromise. “They said that if he spent another £50,000 on security, £25,000 on policing and dropped Pete Doherty from the bill, then they would drop the action.” The police felt that the level of crowd control and number of stewards the organisers proposed was what they were also unhappy about. Mr Green says that they had 20 security guards on rota duty, with numbers set to increase at peak time and the festival had made offers to increase the number of security guards to ally their fears.

The police move ultimately forced the festival to cancel the whole event. A statement on the Moonfest website reads: “On Monday 18th Aug 2008, we appeared before Chippenham magistrate’s court where the police successfully convinced the magistrates that the appearance of Pete Doherty at Moonfest was likely to cause public disorder. Using section 160 of the Licensing Act 2003, the magistrates revoked our licence for Friday 29 Aug. With Pete and Babyshambles being our headlining act for the weekend, this draconian action taken by the Police makes it impossible to run the event at the end of August. To say we are surprised and devastated would be an understatement. The Police attended every public licensing meeting over the last six months. They have always been aware that Babyshambles and Pete were appearing. The police also attended the public hearing on the 24 July when the licence was granted and made no objections; indeed they actively supported the event at the meeting. We are currently carrying out the huge task of contacting all the people involved in putting the festival together. Once we have done that we will be contacting directly all people who have purchased tickets”.

They added: “We would like to extend our thanks to all the people that have been so helpful and understanding in what has become an enormous nightmare to the Moonfest team. There are too many to list individually however we would like to say a special thank you to Pete Doherty who has volunteered to put on a free performance at a private party we are looking to organise for all the people who are affected by this terrible news”.

Its also interesting to note that the former chair of the Live Music Forum and now CEO of British Music Rights, Feargal Sharkey, wrote a letter on the Guardian’s Free to Comment web pages asking how the Wiltshire constabulary “can wield such unreasonable and disproportionate powers in deciding what kind of musicians can and can not play live in their immediate vicinity” saying he is writing to Culture Secretary Andy Burnham on the subject adding that he looked “forward to hearing back as to what these extraordinary circumstances were. No doubt UK musicians would also appreciate clarification as to where the line of censorship is drawn”. This is turning into a serious debate and here at Music Law Updates we think that Feargal is right to ask these questions and his final comment is telling “ As someone who oversaw the implementation of the Act, I can confirm that it was actually designed to modernise an archaic system of licensing, not to enable faceless bureaucrats ride roughshod over culture and creativity and have undue influence over an artist’s ability to forge a career – regardless of their whirlpool inciting powers or not”.





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