What happened at Islington Town Hall on Tuesday night (Sept 6th) was not a hearing, for you cannot hear when you refuse to listen — even when 150,000 voices cry out in unison. No, what happened instead was the heart of the London club scene was brutally torn out. After well over six hours of debate and deliberation, 17-year-old institution, Fabric, through which over 5000 artists and six million clubbers have passed since opening, had its licence revoked, taking with it the jobs of 250 heart-broken staff, and forever disfiguring the landscape of the UK’s pioneering club culture.
The session itself saw well over six hours of debate and deliberation. However, let’s not pretend any of the moving testimonies or highly evidenced defence put forward by Fabric’s representatives was actually taken on board. For those at the meeting, this was clear from the blatant politicisation of the recent drug-related deaths at the club by Clerkenwell Councillor, Raphael Andrews; from the unrelenting hypocrisy in Councillor Gary Poole’s line of questioning, even seeking to destroy the credibility of fabric witness Professor Fiona Measham, an expert in criminology and social policy, for her previous involvement in a Lib Dem-organised drug policy advisory group — despite the Chair making it abundantly clear that discussion of wider UK drug policy had no place at the table; and, most notably, from the final statement of Councillor Flora Williamson, Chair of the Licensing Committee, who presented an 11-point list of “relevant facts”, which claimed Fabric’s security measures were inadequate, despite heavy evidence to the contrary, including the Met Police themselves using Fabric as the gold standard which other clubs should aim towards.
But beyond this, as many suspected from the moment the club’s licence was suspended last month, several articles have emerged today suggesting that the decision to axe Fabric was already a done deal.
At the meeting, the Metropolitan Police’s vague and often circumstantial findings — which amounted to little more than Fabric patrons looking like they might be on drugs, asking to purchase drugs possibly within earshot of a club employee, and a single university welfare officer claiming drugs are freely available at Fabric — aimed to paint a horrendous picture of the venue as a haven for drug users. Now a report published in The Independent today, based upon documents received under a Freedom Of Information request, shows the crassly named ‘Operation Lenor’ offered no hard evidence of drug-taking whatsoever. The article suggests that Fabric’s closure was entirely premeditated, with cuts to Islington Council’s funding — confirmed in a 2015 report at a whopping £70 million over the next four years — and in turn the local police force facing the loss of up to 44% of staff, leading them to seek investment from elsewhere.
Last week, an article on the Construction Enquirer website reported that the Museum Of London is moving forward with plans for a £200 million redevelopment of the Smithfield Market area. Meanwhile, the Crossrail website states that the Farringdon Elizabeth Line station, set to open in 2018, will be “one of the busiest in the UK” and that Crossrail “has been working with Islington Council and the City Of London on proposals for improvements to the area around the station.”
The idea that Fabric was closed over drug offences simply doesn’t hold water. As Cameron Leslie (pictured above) said in his tremendous speech last night, “Drug-taking is endemic in British society and there's not a shred of evidence anywhere to suggest closing nightclubs will somehow either lower drug harm or eliminate consumption. It's a smokescreen for a drug policy that has consistently failed over a 50-year period.”
Various criminal activities were listed in the case against Fabric last night, but the club’s true crime was being a bastion of culture in a time when policy considers this worthless. Culture may be a huge economic benefit — it was the popularity of Fabric that put Farringdon on the map — but it is a long-term investment and we live in the world of now, of fast cash, where property ‘development’ always trumps community building. Culture is, and always has been, a catalyst for change, but it is also the scapegoat for a refusal to tackle larger societal issues that can be politically divisive and monetarily risky.
The Mayor Of London, Sadiq Khan released a statement the morning after the hearing admitting that “the issues faced by Fabric point to a wider problem of how we protect London’s night-time economy, while ensuring it is safe and enjoyable for everyone. Over the past eight years, London has lost 50 percent of its nightclubs and 40 percent of its live music venues. This decline must stop if London is to retain its status as a 24-hour city with a world-class nightlife.”
Khan’s plans to introduce a ‘Night Czar’ to the capital give some hope to the future of London clubbing, but in the end, words are cheap, and without significant change to the value placed upon modern cultural beacons, we will continue to destroy our nation’s future before it has even begun.
Words by Ben Hindle
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