The future of Brixton Academy has been discussed in a two-day-long hearing at Lambeth Town Hall, with Lambeth Council revealing that it would support the reopening of the venue “in principle”.
The venue has been closed since December 2022 following the fatal crowd surge incident at an Asake concert. Gaby Hutchinson, aged 23, and 33-year-old Rebecca Ikumelo died in hospital after being involved in the crush.
A 21-year-old woman, who was injured from the crush still remains in hospital in a critical condition.
Lambeth Council barrister Horatio Waller QC opened the hearing on the potential re-opening of Brixton Academy.
Waller explained according to NME that the council “supports, in principle, the re-opening of the venue” however, based on its new conditions.
The conditions were outlined to include a “new, revised system for ingress [entry] into the venue” and new barriers “positioned on the highway,” to manage traffic.
On the night of December 15, doors were breached as a crowd pushed into the lobby towards the auditorium.
“This is much more comprehensive, prescriptive and controlled than the system that existed on December 15,” Waller said. “The tragedy likely would not have occurred if that system was in place.”
The Metropolitan Police deny claims that it had been looking to close the venue but according to NME. The police argue that the current operator – the Academy Music Group (AMG) which has operated the venue for 20 years – “shouldn’t be the licensee”.
“This is much more comprehensive, prescriptive and controlled than the system that existed on December 15,” Waller adds. “The tragedy likely would not have occurred if that system was in place.”
However, licensing sub-committee chair, Councillor Fred Howell reiterated that the committee had not made its final decision as of yet.
On the first day of the hearing, AMG’s legal representative, Mr Philip Kolvin QC said: “My client is probably the leading host of music of Black origin in this country. That’s a position that it values and would like to continue to be”.
From 13 different risks assessed by the Academy, Kolvin said that “none of them are racial”.
The following day at the hearing, Waller “entirely agreed” with Kolvin’s conclusion saying: “This new process should not lead to a tunnel vision situation where risk is associated with genre or race”.
The venue has spent £1.2 million on maintenance and improvements in 2023 with Kolvin QC explaining that the venue has installed strengthened doors.
“At the time of this incident, the doors were unable to withstand a mass and violent attack,” he said. “In other words, the premises were not a fortress, they were a concert hall. Even if you consider the doors should have been more robust at an earlier stage, that is a matter of blame which is for other processes to investigate. It does not require these premises to shut down any more than any other public or private premises that are compulsorily closed following accidents, even terrible accidents.”
“The doors have now been strengthened so as to be resilient against pressure, even if it did occur,” he added.
Legal counsel for the Met Police, Gerald Gouriet KC, said in a closing argument: “The police do not wish to close the Academy.”
He concluded: “I’ve read again and again in the press and on social media that the police are trying to shut down the Academy permanently. That is simply not the case.”
Following the public hearing, Lambeth Council have announced that the decision on the future of Brixton Academy will be made “within five working days”.
Becky Buckle is Mixmag’s Multimedia Editor, follow her on Twitter
Written by: Tim Hopkins