A worrying trend of police intervention in Licensing?

June 2010

Live events Industry

What do Moonfest 2008, The Big Green Gathering 2009, the Strawberry Fayre in 2010 Cambridge and now this year’s Glade Festival all have in common? Well, they have all been cancelled after intervention by the police in the licensing process – sometimes (but not always) against the wishes of local residents and even the licensing authority.

The organisers of the Glade Festival said this

With great sadness we have been forced to cancel the Glade Festival 2010. When we started back in 2004 we did so out of a love of electronic music, free spiritedness and alternative culture and in response to the vibrant free party scene in the UK. We wanted to have our own version of the kind of colourful, creative and non-corporate events that happen in many places across the planet… Looking back it is amazing that it happened. As many Glade fans will know over the years we have fought hard to maintain the integrity of the event against steadily increasing restrictions imposed by local authority and police. The resulting compromises have led to increased costs, increased ticket prices and a throttling of the very essence of what we wanted to do. It led to us finally having to move from the lovely Wasing estate due to late night noise restrictions and the police’s demands for an ever-increasing security and police presence at the event. At our new venue, Matterley Bowl, there has actually been some amazing support from the local council who’s officers recognize the professional and co-operative way we run the event and the contribution to the local area and the country’s cultural diversity. They have worked with us to ensure the Glade is a safe and enjoyable event and openly recognize that we have one of the best event management teams in the country to do this.

However this year the requirements imposed upon us for policing, security and stewarding have been greatly increased. To make matters worse the reluctance of the police to negotiate in advance and deliberately delay any dialogue with us has resulted in our being unable to tie down a final costing for the event. This, along with unexpected legal fees associated with a last minute license review, has radically increased the cost of the festival.

Faced with what is already an expensive event to put on and with these unexpected forced increases in security and police costs as well as a level of advanced ticket sales that is below our expectations we have no choice but to do the responsible thing and cancel the event.

The organisers told us that “our council was 100% behind it” and that the festival had “a 2 to 1 local majority support” adding “we all need to take voice against all this whenever we can”
The Strawberry Fayre 2010 was cancelled after police objections despite local authority and local residents support – even the local MP, conservative David Howarth, said that the licensing decision “should be left to elected councillors not unelected police” adding “This is not an issue on which the police should have been allowed to dictate. “It should be left to democratically elected councillors to make decisions like these that affect our city, not unelected police officers.” The council said “In view of the continuing hostility of the police towards Strawberry Fair the organisers have reluctantly taken the decision to cancel this year’s event.” “The event’s organisers said they cancelled the event after police challenged the granting of a licence by the city council. They said the effort needed to ensure an alcohol licence for the event would take up too much volunteers’ time. Cambridgeshire Police made the appeal to question “the legal position in the licensing magistrates’ court”.
Chief Supt Rob Needle said: “We are surprised that the Strawberry Fair organisers have decided to cancel this year’s event. “Let me make it absolutely clear once again that we are not against the event in principle, and never have been. “Last year, however, there were 73 arrests, 244 people were given formal warnings for cannabis possession and eight were given penalty notices for urinating in public. “In total there were more than 400 prosecutions. This raises issues under the Licensing Act of 2003 and therefore we made an appeal for further consideration of the legal position by the licensing magistrates’ court.”
Julie Smith, councillor for arts and recreation, said: “Strawberry Fair makes an extremely valuable cultural contribution to Cambridge” and Jennifer Liddle, who chairs the council’s licensing committee, said: “The committee listened very carefully to all of the evidence presented to it, by the police and by the Strawberry Fair committee” saying “They unanimously decided that the new look Strawberry Fair should be granted a licence” adding “We believed the conditions we imposed on the licence would address issues such as anti-social behaviour and allow people of all ages to enjoy this event once again” but it was not to be.
The Big Green Gathering was cancelled in 2009 and from the organisers perspective this was because of restrictive, expensive and unreasonable police demands for excess security and policing. Festival directors accused the police of taking a politically motivated decision to shut down the festival on the grounds that it attracts environmental activists and would have raised money for a major climate change demonstration, Climate Camp although it should be made clear that the local licensing authority, Mendip District Council, here supported the police. Despite opposition from both council and police, organisers of the BGG were adamant that the police intervention caused the cancellation with festival chairman Brig Oubridge saying “It was a premeditated political decision made at least a week ago. There were going to be people from the Climate Camp here as well as Plane Stupid. It could be seen by police as gathering ground of radicals” adding “What the police have done is put more and more pressure on us over all our arrangements. It was a deliberate attempt to make it impossible to go ahead. We got in exactly the same paperwork as in other years. We know the officers were under pressure to close us down. This is a step backwards to the days of Margaret Thatcher”. A spokesman for Avon and Somerset police said: “The event was not cancelled by the police or Mendip District Council. The organisers voluntarily surrendered their licence yesterday; therefore it was their decision to cancel, not ours. The fact that they voluntarily surrendered their licence suggests they did not feel they could satisfy the safety concerns. Police and council staff have been involved in negotiations with organisers for many weeks to try to address the concerns.”

You may remember that Moonfest was cancelled a couple of years ago over some unsubstantiated ‘research’ from Wiltshire police about a planned Babyshambles headline performance  and the concept of audience ‘whirlpooling’. Based on a vido of the band playing at the Royal Albert Hall the police appelaled the festival licence and on Monday 18th August 2008 organisers 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. The organisers say that using section 160 of the Licensing Act 2003, the magistrates revoked the licence for the planed performance Friday 29th August saying “With Pete and Babyshambles being our headlining act for the weekend, this draconian action taken by the Police make 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 event licensing meeting over the last 6 months. They have always been aware that Babyshambles and Pete were appearing. The police also attended the public hearing on the 24th July when the licence was granted and made no objections; indeed they actively supported the event at the meeting”.

Thimbeberry was a bit different – but again police action resulted in an event being cancelled. Here Durham County Constabulary decided to prosecute organiser for allowing the use of cannabis (a classs B drug) on his festival site in 2009 after a police investigation. Officers arrested him shortly after the three-day festival but in Judge Christopher Prince recorded a verdict of not guilty at Durham Crown Court after concerns over the committal and the definition of the word ‘premises’. Norman, who runs the Festival in both June and September, had already cancelled the 2010 June event but plans to now run the September event. He is seeking to recover £3,513 confiscated by the Police at the September 2009 event as potential proceeds of crime. Perhaps police officer in charge of police stations in Durham should be charged with harbouring known criminals in their cells?

A separate but related matter is police costs – with many festival’s reporting dramatic rises in costs for Police. Festival Republic have already won an action against West Yorkshire Police but numerous other festivals such as Guilford (and to be fair sports events and other events) face escalating police costs. The topic seems on many peoples ‘radar’ but not much seems to be happening. The Mean Fiddler Group (owner of Reading Festival Limited) won a Court of Appealbattle over who pays to police major events after being ordered to pay West Yorkshire Police nearly £300,000 for its services at the Leeds Festival in 2003. But The Court of Appeal said that “special police services” had not been requested in 2003 and could not be recovered from the promoter. In 2003 there was no police presence within the music arena and Mean Fiddler argued it was therefore not liable to pay for police activity outside the site. At the time Lord Justice Baker said the ruling had implications for major events and any large gatherings of the public.  He said the court was being asked to decide on the dividing line between services the police must provide as part of its public duty and special services provided at the request of promoters, for which promoters must pay. Lord Baker said: “There is a strong argument that where promoters put on a function such as a music festival or sporting event which is attended by large numbers of the public, the police should be able to recover the additional cost they are put to for policing the event and the local community affected by it and that “this seems only just where the event is run for profit. That, however, is not the law.” Allowing the appeal, he said it had not been established that a request had been made for “special police services” at the three-day event at Bramham Park near Leeds.
For depressing reading though have a look at this interesting article by George Montbiot in the Guardian (30th March 2010) Why do our paranoid, anti-fun police seem to think they run the country?http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/mar/29/paranoid-anti-fun-police-protest-festivals

www.musiclawupdates.com Archive – June 2006

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