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Licensing lessons from the Fabric nightclub case


A successful legal appeal has allowed London’s iconic Fabric nightclub to reopen after licensing bosses agreed to strict new licensing conditions. David Edwards, a contentious licensing expert at Harrison Drury solicitors, looks at the steps other licensees can take to keep their premises licence.

Make your club’s policies subjective and bespoke

The main message to take away from the Fabric nightclub case, and others like it, is that all licensees can take preventative action to significantly reduce the risk of losing their premises licence.

All licensees and those employed by them have the ability to influence their policies and procedures so they don’t end up in a position where their licence is put at risk.

The main way licensees can do this is by tailoring their policies to the business and leaving nothing to chance. By this I mean that drug, alcohol and security policies should be informed by the layout, culture and clientele of the premises.

Training of club and security staff needs to be thorough, while an exhaustive approach should be taken to ensuring they understand the policies and how to act on them.

Understand what your business is and what the risks are

The outpouring of public support for Fabric was evidenced by the £320,000 raised by supporters to appeal its closure, the public backing of celebrities and even the intervention in the debate of London mayor Sadiq Khan.

For a club to evoke that strength of feeling from people, shows the fan base it had, particularly amongst the underground dance music community. At the end of the day, Fabric is an ‘underground’ electronic dance music venue and there is a recreational drug-use culture that goes hand-in-hand with this scene.

All licensees have to be honest with themselves about what goes on, and what has the potential to go on, inside their premises and be able to demonstrate they have a determination to tackle illegal behaviour and take every possible precaution to keep people safe.

The drugs risk cannot be ignored

Following the drug-related deaths of two young men at the club, Fabric clearly had a problem with drugs, which it acknowledged when it admitted to the court that “procedures in relation to searching were insufficient, as were its procedures to prevent the consumption and dealing of drugs within the club itself”.

Therefore, licensees in the club industry, particularly where there is increased risk of drug-use, need to have robust mechanisms in place to deter drug dealing and drug use.

This means more scrupulous drugs searches, better circulation of security staff within the club (especially in a club like Fabric, where the layout of the venue is like a labyrinth) better use of CCTV and clear procedures for ejecting and banning those using and dealing drugs, and also reporting such behaviour to the police.

The steps Fabric is now taking, such as banning anyone under 19, having ID scanners and enforcing lifetime bans on anyone caught asking for drugs, should help it tackle the drug problem. They can serve as an example to other clubs of the precautions they may have to take if they want to keep their licence.

Even clubs without a known drug problem should be taking every precaution to deter drug taking. Meanwhile, the risk of underage drinking can be tackled through policies like Challenge 25 and improved door security.

David Edwards heads up Harrison Drury’s regulatory and licensing team and is an expert in defending large contentious licencing matters in the entertainment and night-time economy sectors. David secured the first successful Crown Court appeal against a Police Closure Order in the UK, for a large night-time venue.

For further advice on this matter, or any other licensing matter, contact David by email or on 01772 258321.

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