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NIGHTS OF VIOLENCE: Last chance for nightclub as venue keeps licence

NIGHTS OF VIOLENCE: Last chance for nightclub as venue keeps licence

A crowd of around 100 people gathers outside of History

A nightclub has been given ‘one last chance’ after having its licence suspended following two nights of violence and mayhem.

History, in Manchester city centre, was at risk of being shut down after a doorman was stabbed.

The serious attack was followed just just seven days later by hordes of troublemakers able to ‘rush’ the doors thanks to insufficient security, forcing police to be called from across the city centre and beyond as as fighting broke out and the venue descended into ‘serious disorder’.

The chaotic scenes triggered a council licensing review, which saw 25 residents come forward with accounts of how problems seemingly related to the club had made their lives a misery.

Complaints about the club – on Longworth Street, off Deansgate – ranged from intimidation, drug dealing and violence, to illegal parking, noise pollution and littering.

GMP and licensing chiefs both urged a council sub-committee to strip the club of its licence after presenting evidence at an eight-hour hearing at the town hall extension.

But the three-strong panel handed the nightspot a reprieve after club owner Mohammed Mohamud and solicitor Richard Williams  pleaded for a second chance.

The club proposed  a series of measures – including a new metal-detecting arch, increased security and an earlier 4am closing time –  which they were ‘confident’ would stop any repeat of the recent trouble.

After a lengthy period of deliberation, the committee told the club it had accepted its plea not to go for the ‘nuclear option’. Instead it would allow the venue to put its ‘action plan’ into place – with some changes and additional conditions.

Chair Councillor Paul Andrews said: “Revocation was a serious consideration for the panel. However, we have decided not to revoke the licence, we have modified the licence conditions.”

Legal adviser Dawn Sweetman added that the committee was ‘of the opinion that the premises had understood the significance of the events and the concerns of residents and addressed those concerns raised by them and the other relevant authorities’.

Problems at ‘high class’ nightclub

A report to the committee from the council’s out-of-hours team records a string of breaches at History – followed by warning letters – dating back to 2018.

These mainly arose from residents’ complaints about noise from clubbers leaving at the end of the night, fighting and drug misuse and disturbance from people revving car engines, sounding horns and playing loud music.

But it was two consecutive weekends in September that finally brought matters to a head and led to a review of the premises licence.

‘Serious disorder’ at the nightclub

During the early hours of September 12 a man was ejected from the premises for disorderly behaviour but returned to the queue shortly after and got into a fracas with door staff.

During the altercation he stabbed a doorman in the back and was later detained and arrested for wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm. The club’s security, provided by Securios, was deemed to have dealt with this incident ‘entirely appropriately’, however.

The following weekend, the night of September 19 at 1am, around 100 people who had gathered outside History ‘rushed’ the doors to get inside the club.

They were able to overpower the eight door staff at the barrier, and the club admits that ‘in hindsight’ it should have had more door supervisors on duty.

A number of door staff were not wearing hi-vis jackets or displaying their Security Industry Authority badges – which is against the venue’s licensing conditions and SIA rules respectively.

Two police officers who had been stationed nearby as part of Operation Custodian following the previous week’s violence came to help together and further patrols were also called to the club.

Suspected troublemakers were flushed out of the venue and the situation was slowly brought under control. As things began to calm down, only the Operation Custodian officers remained at the venue.

Fighting breaks out

But at around 3.45am on the same night, fighting broke out and the situation had become so dangerous that every free police officer in the city centre reported to the club – including Tactical Aid and fire arms units.

The situation was briefly brought under control and two men were arrested for being in possession of knives.

However, fighting soon started up again, meaning police from outside the city centre were drafted in as things threatened to get totally out of hand.

CCTV footage shown to the meeting by PC Alan Isherwood showed fighting in a balcony area where a customer had prised a bottle of spirits from its secure table fastening.

A man wearing light blue jeans and a hoodie was also seen brandishing a metal barrier pole on the dance floor, before it was taken off him and handed to a police officer.

PC Isherwood then showed footage of his same man in the lobby area seemingly ordering security officers to follow him back up the stairs into the main part of the club.

A doorman who was refusing to give a police officers his details was also seen reporting directly to him on the officer’s body-cam footage.

Confusion over security

Club manager Frankie Fabowale told the meeting this individual was a security guard at the venue but not on official duty that night as his wife had just given birth.

However, he was unable to explain why he was in the club at 4am if that were the case.

The confusion over who was acting as security – either officially or unofficially – played a big part in the chaos that broke out at History in the early hours.

Another man put a customer in a headlock as he tried to leave the venue with a drink, contrary to the venue’s licensing conditions.

It transpired he was a VIP area manager, not a member of security staff – although his intervention did lead to the retrieval of a knife which was later handed to officers.

However, the club’s solicitor, Richard Williams, argued this was permissible when non-licensed staff are responding to a ‘sudden or unexpected occurrence’.

During the disorder the firearms unit reported that a tyre had been slashed on its armed response vehicle and a can of lager was thrown at a dog handler.

The incident was finally brought under control at around 4.30am and several arrests were made. Two knives were confiscated by police.

What the police said

PC Alan Isherwood told the meeting how the club had a ‘history of non-compliance’ and had to be spoon-fed by the council’s licensing team – and needed ‘regular reminders’ on how to run the club properly.

He also reminded the panel of the evidence it had heard about the ‘detrimental’ impact on the lives of people living nearby.

Police were very concerned about the ‘serious’ nature of incidents at the club, the need to deploy so many officers to the venue and the presence of knives, said PC Isherwood.

He continued: “Because of that we are extremely worried by the level of violence displayed inside and outside the premises and the lack of assistance from some of the security staff.

“We therefore think there’s a genuine risk to the safety of customers and staff and therefore ask the committee to revoke the licence today.”

What the council’s licensing team said

Steve Harrison, the council’s licensing compliance officer, said his team felt it was now time to revoke the club’s licence following several warnings since February 2019.

He said: “The premises have consistently failed to uphold the licensing objectives and has little regard for the licensing conditions.

“Upon viewing the CCTV footage taken on September 19, robust measures need to be implemented to prevent serious risk to life.

He added that the club had demonstrated contempt for its licensing conditions ‘time and time again’.

“On the night of serious disorder, door security and management failed drastically in fulfilling responsibilities,” he said.

“Licensing are unable to offer any remedial action that could help prevent significant noise and anti-social behaviour from occurring outside the nightclub and the surrounding residential estate.

“We believe the conditions on the licence are already adequate to prevent this but are not being followed.”

Mr Harrison said it was clear there was an ‘underlying disregard’ for the licensing conditions already in place.

What residents said

Councillor Joan Davies, speaking on behalf of residents, said: “The club is causing a problem, I can’t accept it continuing to cause a problem at 4am is in anymore acceptable.

“There are things the club can do. It’s the fact that their customers – a considerable proportion of their customers – are choosing to behave in this way.

“It’s a choice, not a necessity, and there are things that can be done by the premises to alter who is attending their premises.”

Coun Davies had told the meeting she had ‘no problem’ with History operating a lively venue and people enjoying themselves into the small hours.

“What I do have a problem with is street urination, drug dealing, drug taking, blasting loud music out of cars and the feeling of intimidation that residents are experiencing,” she said.

The Deansgate ward councillor ‘reluctantly’ called for the licence to be revoked, or if the committee was not so minded – for a further reduction in opening hours and extra conditions to reduce the ‘consistent nuisance’ to residents.

Henry Blackshaw, a criminal barrister by profession, told the meeting that the ‘vibe’ promoted by the club was one with a ‘violent edge’ compared to others operating nearby.

“That again, is symptomatic of the people who can be seen misbehaving in the streets around [the club],” said Mr Blackshaw.

“It has made what was a safe and quiet environment quite the reverse now, as a result of the anti-social behaviour of people who spread out from this club at all hours of the night, on the nights of the week it operates.”

He also questioned the ‘imagery’ used to promote the club, including those showing rappers making ‘gun signs’.

What the club said

Mr Mohamud said he accepted that what residents had been through was ‘terrible’ and ‘disgusting’ and apologised to anyone who was affected.

But he said closing the club would not just impact on him, but all the people whose livelihood depends on the venue.

“To revoke the licence, I think would be a bit harsh,” he said. “So much else happens every weekend that gets reported, but no one’s brought to this like we have.”

Mr Mohamud added that he felt closing the club would be ‘very unjust’ and he honestly did not believe it was ‘the right thing to do’.

“I think we need to be given a chance and hopefully we won’t let anyone down. If we can’t make it right you have every right to say to us ‘we gave you a chance and you messed up and that’s it.”

Asked if he was confident the proposed new conditions would be able to turn things round, he said: “I honestly believe that, with the support of GMP and the council, we can. We absolutely can.”

Mr Williams, speaking on behalf of the club,  said that it would be ‘easy’ for the panel to go for the ‘nuclear option’ of shutting the club down – but he did not accept that was the only option.

He told the meeting that the increasingly residential area around the club had not made it easy to manage – but the venue did not ‘seek to justify’ its failings.

“Unfortunately it takes this sort of proceeding to drive home to an operator how they need to comply with conditions and what they need to do moving forward. Because, really, this is the last chance saloon,” he said.

Mr Williams continued: “The proof would be in the pudding and I accept you may have concerns about whether conditions may be complied with.

“But ultimately, if conditions are not complied with,the responsible authorities are quite entitled to bring the club back before the committee on a subsequent occasion – and I have no doubt the outcome would be far more serious.”

He finished by asking the panel to take a ‘leap of faith’ and give the club ‘one more chance’.

The new conditions

New conditions at the club will  include a last entry time of 2am to restrict disturbance to residents from queuing customers,  an earlier closing time of 4am, which would reduce the opening hours on a Saturday by two and a half hours.

There will also be 12 door supervisors on a Saturday night, who will have to wear high visibility yellow or orange vests so they can be easily identified.

Two members of door staff will also wear body cameras and a knife arch will be installed – as more effective measure than ‘wanding’ and the current security provider will be replaced.

Queueing will now take place away from St John Street and The Residence and, at the end of the evening customers will be dispersed in the direction of Artillery Street, which is largely non-residential.

The club will  be able to open again once all the conditions stipulated by the committee have been put in place.

The council’s licensing sub-committee hearing panel met at the town hall extension on Friday, October, 2021 10.00 am

 

Words: Nick Statham, Local Democracy Reporter


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