Brixton Academy cleared to reopen nine months after fatal crush

The 02 Brixton Academy can reopen after councillors voted to restore its licence.

The south London music venue has been closed since a deadly crush in December 15 last year which killed two people, when fans tried to force entry into a show by Nigerian artist Asake.

It faced permanent closure after the Metropolitan Police urged the council to remove its licence, having indicated it had no confidence in the company which owns the Academy to run it.

But following a two-day hearing, Lambeth Council’s licensing sub-committee has voted to allow the venue to continue operating – so long as it meets “77 extensive and robust new conditions”.

Responding to the decision, Brixton Academy said it was “immensely grateful” to Lambeth Council and would reopen at first with test events.

The company which owns the Brixton Academy, Academy Music Group (AMG), told the committee it had developed new safety measures in an effort to have its licence restored, including stronger doors, a better queuing system and more secure ticketing.

AMG said changes to its operating policies had been developed by “leading professionals” to prevent a repeat of last year’s events.

The company, which has operated the venue for 20 years, has done “all in its power to analyse what went wrong”, the barrister representing AMG, Mr Philip Kolvin, added.

The venue has spent £1.2 million on maintenance and improvements in 2023, despite being closed, he added.

Brixton O2 Academy incident
Gaby Hutchinson, 23, died after a crowd crush at the O2 Brixton Academy (Metropolitan Police/PA)

The Metropolitan Police urged the council to remove the licence after “large-scale disorder” at the scene, with crowds of 1,000 people trying to force their way in.

When the doors were breached the crowd poured into the lobby towards the auditorium and surged over people who had fallen to the floor.

Councillors previously suspended the venue’s licence for three months and the decision was supported by the venue’s owner.

Gerald Gouriet KC, representing the Met, said the force was not trying to shut down the venue, but believed AMG should no longer be the licensee.

Security guard Gaby Hutchinson, 23, and Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, died and a 21-year-old woman, who was injured in the crush, remains in hospital in a critical condition.

A total of 165 security staff were used for the Asake show, the highest number the venue had ever used, the committee was told.

Brixton O2 Academy incident
Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, died (Family Handout/PA)

A police investigation was launched and the Security Industry Authority opened an inquiry into corruption allegations made after the crush.

Councillor Dr Mahamed Hashi, Lambeth’s cabinet member for safer communities, said: “AMG will now need to put in place the agreed measures to enable the re-opening of this much-loved local venue, which is a key part of Brixton’s cultural heritage and has been enjoyed by millions.

“We will be working to closely monitor all licensing conditions to ensure that safety is at the forefront of the venue’s future operations.”

Brixton Academy said it looked forward to welcoming fans back.

In a statement, the venue said: “We are immensely grateful to Lambeth Council and Lambeth Licensing Sub-Committee.

“We continue to be devastated by the events of last December. Our heartfelt condolences remain with the family and friends of Rebecca Ikumelo and Gaby Hutchinson. What happened was and is a tragedy and we are committed to ensuring that it can never be repeated.

“Over the past nine months, the venue’s importance to the local community and the live music scene in the UK has been made clear.

“Academy Music Group is determined to learn all appropriate lessons from the night of December 15 2022.

“As the Licensing Sub Committee knows, the venue must implement all the new conditions and will reopen at first with test events. The commitment we give to work in close partnership with all the responsible authorities as we reopen is a serious and sincere one.

“There will be announcements on activity and a timeline in due course. We look forward to welcoming fans back to this iconic venue.”

Florence Eshalomi, MP for Vauxhall, said: “I know how popular the Brixton Academy is and the fondness in which it is held as a music venue.

“It plays an important role in Brixton’s night-time economy and boosts trade for surrounding businesses.

“I am therefore pleased that it will reopen, but this should only happen in the full knowledge that it is safe to do so.

“Now that the decision has been made, it is now up to AMG to restore trust with the community and demonstrate their commitment to prioritising safety at all future events.”

The Metropolitan Police said officers will work with Academy Music Group and Lambeth Council to ensure the public can enjoy events at O2 Brixton Academy again.

In a statement, Superintendent Gabriel Cameron, Lambeth neighbourhood police lead, said: “Our thoughts today are with the loved ones of Rebecca Ikumelo, Gaby Hutchinson and the young woman who remains critically injured.

“It has always been the aim of the Met Police to ensure that the venue is operated safely for the public, and it is run by a licensee who will take all necessary steps to ensure this is the case.

“It has never been our aim to ask for the venue itself to be permanently closed. We absolutely recognise the cultural importance of it and its place at the heart of Lambeth.

“Our investigation to establish the circumstances of what caused the tragic incident on 15 December 2022 is ongoing.”

Gaby Hutchinson’s partner, Phoebe Turley, and the family of Ms Ikumelo both declined to comment when approached by the PA news agency.