It’s been just over 3.5 days since we launched our #saveourculture campaign, says fabric Managing Director Gary Kilbey on the club’s website, and to say we’ve been overwhelmed and humbled by the response you’ve all shown us would be an understatement.
The love and support we’ve received from all 4 corners of the globe shows how much our community has grown in the last 17 years, and further it makes us proud to see just how relevant our basement in Farringdon has become.
At the time of writing our campaign has received a total of £141,000 and rising. This sum will help enable us to appeal the questionable council review which led to the revocation of our licence – the details of which are outlined below.
What are these funds for?
Although fabric is a successful business with financial provisions to cope with extenuating circumstances, these simply may not be sufficient to pay for an extensive legal battle and also to keep the club alive until a court hearing.
In these circumstances, it will be necessary to utilise the fundraising to support the continued hibernation of the club.nTo clarify we will set out on a bi-weekly basis a schedule of receipts and payments. As it stands our anticipated insurance claim is being challenged because of the nature of the wording from Islington Councils decision to revoke our licence.
We would also like to mention the expensive legal battle we had against the police throughout 2015 when we challenged their request to have the presence of drugs dogs and ID scanners at our venue. This is a battle we funded entirely ourselves and won for both this venue and the industry as a whole.
What are we aiming for?
Understanding: youth culture and nightlife behaviour, and the economics of running a viable business in this space.
Progression: moving to relevant, considered and effective solutions and measures in the way the sector operates.
Reworking: the licensing approach to enable businesses to invest and grow, financially and safely.
Our first objective is to re-open fabric. We have appealed to the Magistrates’ Court against Islington Council’s decision to revoke our licence and will be pushing for the earliest possible hearing date.
We have been fortunate enough to secure the services of Philip Kolvin QC to lead our legal team, who is widely regarded as the top licensing barrister in the UK.
Saving the night time economy
There is also a wider fight to stop this injustice happening again, to us or other venues. Our main argument is as follows:
• No venue should be closed or threatened with closure as a result of crime occurring without the fault of management.
• Closure should be a last resort. No venue should be closed unless the fault cannot be corrected.
• Police evidence to licensing authorities should be judged on its merits.
It’s a fact of life that crime, accidents and injuries happen, but it’s almost never proposed that the areas in which they occur should be closed. Accidents occur on motorways, on public transport, in factories and on building sites. Deaths occur on beaches. Disorder happens at sporting events. Injuries occur in police custody. Shoplifting happens in supermarkets. In every case, the focus is on how management practices should improve to prevent future harm.
The licensed sector has become a unique exception. Criminal conduct by individuals, whether disorder, drug use or phone theft, is used by police as a pretext to shut down businesses altogether. Sometimes even a temporary closure, shutting off the lifeblood of income, on top of the need to hire lawyers to defend proceedings, is enough to close the club all by itself. There is no good reason for discriminating against good operators by threatening their existence because of the acts of a criminal minority.
Guidance should make it clear that the job of licensing is to enforce proper standards: well-run clubs should not face closure. Furthermore, shutting a business – destroying the investment and eradicating jobs – should only ever happen as a last resort. Where management practices can be improved, there is no reason to shut the business down.
Guidance that police advice should have a special status in licensing hearings is unfair. The police are not always right. Their evidence should be judged in the same way as that of any other authority: on its merits.
These simple steps can be implemented right away through short amendments to Guidance under the Licensing Act 2003. We will be calling on the Home Secretary to make these changes immediately.
The technical details
Our legal advice is that there are actually 8 serious problems with the law and the Home Secretary’s guidance which we have to unpick. These are technical, so if you are easily bored look away now. Otherwise, read on.
1. Power to apply for interim steps
When the Police apply for summary review of a licence, they have power to apply to the council for “interim steps”, including immediate closure of the venue, if in their opinion the venue is “associated with serious crime or serious disorder”. When this law was passed, it was thought that that basically meant use of guns or knives. But the Police are using the power to shut venues in a much wider range of cases, which is potentially ruinous for the venues concerned since all their costs continue while their income is suddenly stopped.
We want to change the law and guidance on these powers so that they really are only used in the most serious cases, such as use of guns and knives, where immediate closure is needed to protect the public.
2. Action planning
The Police have the power to apply for interim steps without giving any notice to the venue. Worse still, they can do it without any previous dialogue with the premises. But dialogue is essential so that venues are given to the opportunity to improve. There should be partnership between venues and the police, but this is often lacking.
We want to change the guidance so that there is a documented action plan agreed with the police and the venue. It is only where the venue does not comply with the action plan that the police should bring summary reviews, except in the most exceptional cases.
3. Status of police representations
When the police apply to the council for closure of premises, national guidance says that they are the main sources of advice on crime and disorder, and there is a presumption that their advice should be followed. This special status is not given to any other public authority.
We want to change the guidance so that police advice to councils is judged on its merits, and so that it has no greater status than any other authority’s.
4. Importance of good management
While police advice is given special status at hearings, evidence from the venue about its good management can sometimes be ignored. This particularly happens when the review is triggered by crimes committed on the premises by members of the public. The guidance effectively says that even if the venue is blameless, the council can still shut the venue to prevent further crime. The logic of this is that you would have to close every supermarket, prison and motorway in the country, because of the crimes being committed there like shoplifting, assault and speeding.
We want to change the guidance so that the review focuses on the quality of the management of the venue. Venues should not be closed because of the acts of members of the public where the venue is taking proper steps to prevent crime. Prevention of crime is also a matter for the police. The police also have a duty to prevent crime and catch criminals. Trying to close venues where crime occurs is a poor substitute for their public role.
5. Positive contribution of the venue
In licensing hearings, the focus is entirely negative, about prevention of harm to the statutory licensing objectives. There is no attention paid to positive aspects of venues such as cultural provision, employment, tourism or regeneration. The planning system allows for positive points to be put. The licensing system is largely deaf to the benefits.
We want to change the guidance so that councils have to take account of positive aspects, not just the negative ones.
6. Closure a last resort
Closing a venue permanently, losing the investment, the jobs and the cultural contribution, should only happen as a last resort. But this is not what the Home Secretary’s Guidance says. We believe that it should. There is no good reason to close venues unless it is clear that nothing less will do. The ability of councils to close venues is a major deterrent to responsible investors risking their capital in the night time economy.
We want to change the guidance so that councils cannot close venues except as a last resort.
7. Interim steps pending appeal
Once the council makes its final decision on a summary review application, the interim steps stay in place until any appeal is heard. So if the interim step of closure is imposed at the beginning, the venue stays closed until the appeal is over. That can cripple a venue, which might have to stay shut for many months, even if the final review decision is to allow the venue to re-open.
We want the final review decision to be the one which has effect pending appeal. Then, as soon as the appeal is lodged, the venue ought to be able to ask the Court on short notice to lift the final decision pending the appeal.
8. Closure powers
The police were given power in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2015 to ask a court to close a venue for a wide set of reasons, including “disorderly, offensive or criminal behaviour”, and “serious nuisance to members of the public”. Even where nothing has happened, they can ask a court to close a venue on the grounds of likely future disorder near to and associated with the venue. These hugely draconian powers originated with a power to close crack dens. But they can now be used to bring a long-established, compliant venue to its knees on short notice because of a single unanticipated incident.
We want to change the statutory guidance for the use of this power to bring it into line with the statutory guidance for summary review powers. Well-managed venues should not be facing closure because of crimes committed by third parties. No other kind of business is subject to such sudden closure. Licensed venues should not be the only one.
It will be a big ask to get all of this changed. But we have to do it to protect other venues from suffering the same fate as ours. Our night culture is seeping away, drip by drip. We have to stand together to reverse this decline.
A final pledge
As a collective, your contributions to date have been absolutely staggering. We hope that you all understand the magnitude of the challenge we are facing, and the enormous funding required.
We will ensure transparency by reporting how the funds are used on a bi-weekly basis throughout the campaign, and reporting the future plans for any unused allocation when the time comes.
In the unlikely event of us failing to overturn the decision at appeal, any remaining funds will be used to support other venues and events who have had a similar experience to us and are under threat from unreasonable licensing requirements. We are doing what we feel is the right thing, for us and the whole music sector. Please continue to support us and our cause over the coming weeks.
Finally, I want to thank you all again for your support so far.