Friday 23 September 2016


The revocation of Fabric nightclub’s licence throws into sharp relief the blurred line between operator responsibility and personal responsibility. The closure followed the deaths of two young customers as a result of drugs allegedly taken and bought in the club. In addition to these deaths the licensing committee also found numerous breaches of licensing conditions, and in effect stated that the evidence pointed to security staff at the club turning a blind eye to drug taking and drug dealing on the premises. If Fabric appeals against the revocation decision we will no doubt see the truth of these allegations rigorously tested in court.

Fabric has a world-wide reputation and the case gained publicity because of a petition against the club’s closure signed by over 150,000 people; and even the Mayor of London expressed the hope that the club’s management and the authorities could find a way of working together that would enable the club to stay open. Clearly many people have great affection for Fabric and feel that the club shouldn’t be blamed for the tragedy of these deaths - because they are symptomatic of a much bigger societal problem that can’t be solved by a nightclub’s management, no matter what systems and procedures they put in place. And in particular, critics of the licensing authority’s decision to revoke say “don’t blame the music”!

The British Drugs Survey tells us:
  • 15 million 16 - 44 year-olds have taken drugs – 31% of adult population
  • 50% of 16 – 34 year-olds have taken drugs
  • 23% of drug-takers use daily – 3.45 million
  • 15% weekly – 2.25 million
  • 7% monthly – 1.05 million
  • A total of 6.75 million people regularly use – 45% of all drug users
  • 16% of all users take drugs mostly in the NTE – That’s 2.4 million customers or 35.5% of regular users

The numbers above suggest to me that there is an entire generation of people who are no longer content that their only intoxicants should be alcohol, nicotine and caffeine. For many people taking drugs is part of a night out – whether we like it or not. But drug users in the night-time economy are not a homogenous group. They don’t all take the same drugs, or combination of drugs, and the dose will vary too. Just as not every drinker is a binge drinker, so not every drug user will be looking to take things to the max!

A spectrum exists, and at one end of it is the person who goes out on a Friday night with a gram of cocaine in their pocket and every 20 to 30 minutes they will visit the toilets and snort a line. For that person drug use is a part of, but only a part of, a night out. At the other end of the spectrum are drug users who go out once a week with the intention of getting ‘messed-up’. These are users who will take a combination of ‘M-Cat’ (mephadrone), ‘geebs’ (gamma-hydroxy buterate), ‘Ket’ (Ketamine – a horse sedative) and whatever chemical combination that might be getting sold as ‘ecstasy’ this week.

Police officers are generally realistic and know that it is impossible to entirely eliminate drug use from late-night premises. What attracts a drugs raid and then an expedited review and closure is when what is going on privately become blatantly obvious and public. Stopping that from happening is the job of management and for night-clubs in particular it involves management walking a tightrope. If you can’t entirely eliminate drug use from your premises, but you at least need to keep it down to a level where the police will accept that you’re making a proper attempt to address the problem, where is the line that divides one from the other?

Night-clubs attract particular attention because of three things: firstly, they are often the biggest venue in a town centre; secondly, they are the last port of call for people on a night out; and thirdly they attract an audience with a longer dwell-time than a bar which has a constantly shifting population, and a big through-put of people. And here’s where an operator needs to think very carefully about what kind of audience they are attracting. The music policy will determine the audience. That said, unless you are constantly playing the musical score from The Sound of Music, there will be some drug users in your audience. But are there some forms of music that attract a high percentage of the sort of extreme drug users that only want to listen or dance to the music when they are in an altered state of consciousness? And are we burying our heads in the sand if we think the control problems that throws up can be managed in a way that maintains the confidence of the police?  

I don’t think the law that prohibits drug use is likely to change any time soon – if ever. In the meantime society needs an honest conversation about drugs if we aren’t to lose even more young lives and iconic music venues.

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