Shortly before 4am on Sunday, I was on a nightbus rocking and rolling it’s way back to my part of London. In Reading, a 17 year old boy called Jordan Malutshi was on the floor of a bar, dying from a stab wound.
I predicted Jordan’s death.
Not in a psychic Sally sort of way, but in the sort of way that any criminal justice professional could.
On Saturday, I was out on a hen night in the centre of London. Yes, a hen night, save your jokes folks. And, I’ve got to be honest, it’s been a while since I’ve been out clubbing in the centre of London, and it’s been even longer since I’ve been sober whilst doing it. I say sober, I mean sober enough so I was compos mentis. It was 2 o’clock in the morning, I was on a sweaty dance floor in a central London club, and out of nowhere they started to blast YMCA. Slightly taken by surprise, my mind went for a wander. As I looked around, I realised why so many violent cases came out of clubs.
And it’s not just rough clubs, or bad clubs/bars/pubs, it’s a risk in many places simply because of the way these late night places work.
Booze means bovva
Of course, put any large group of strangers together and throw alcohol into the mixer and there is the risk of bother. I’m far from an advocate for prohibition but I am certain that licensing law could stop some serious injury and offending.
The Licensing Act 2003 had as one of its key aims the prevention of crime. Part 7 of the Act contains a raft of offences, offences which are designed to keep the boozer-going public safe. In general, it’s an offence under section 140 of the Act to allow disorderly conduct on a licensed premises – an offence which is fineable only.
And, again, under section 141 it is an offence to sell alcohol on such a premises to somebody who is drunk – an offence, again which is fineable only.
‘Drunk’ and ‘disorder’ are not precise terms of art. Indeed, the scope of circumstances they present means by their very nature that if you’re hardwired to defend like I am, then you can see ways around it for the license holder. What is apparent is that the penalties involved aren’t loaded with a heavy disincentive.
The reality is people will get drunk and they will get disorderly. Proving that a person was drunk when served and that it was the premises that allowed their disorder don’t seem like simple tasks.
That said, I see the intention behind the legislation, but I realise as I hope you do that the reality is that it doesn’t solve much.
I came to the conclusion on that sweaty dance floor that it’s nigh on impossible to legislate against drunken stupidity.
Name’s not on the list, you’re not coming in
In fact, we got to the first club we were meant to go to that night, and despite being on the guest list, we were told, ‘we’re at capacity, you aint coming in.’ And capacity is often at the starting point of any club/pub brawl. Someone gets barged into, somebody gets a drink spilled, an elbow goes flying on a dance floor and then all hell breaks loose.
It’s not just my old man bones, but, quite simply at some points during the evening the club we were in was simply too full. Could we have got out if there was a fire? Probably so. Were we likely to get crushed at any stage? Doubt it. But, the simple fact of the matter was that there were too many people in the potential ‘flash zone.’
I’m not saying that I need an EU approved bubble of personal space. But, in the algorithm that decides venue capacity, public order should be considered as well as fire safety.
I’ve had a look at the algorithm. It’s all very clever, you divide the standing area by something called occupied load factor. So in a restaurant, there’s an occupied load factor of about 1m2 per person, the same for a waiting room somewhere. In an amusement arcade or a bingo hall it’s 0.5m2 per person. But that’s the same as a nightclub.
Does it really compute that the local mecca bingo can have the same capacity as the local nightclub?
Somewhere, in the mix of capacity ought we not consider a public order, or public disorder factor?
And, it’s the same with staffing. I haven’t been able to find anything which differentiates the number of security staff one needs for a nightclub than that bingo hall – please correct me!
When I lived in the US, I remember one night, which I’ll never forget. It was the local hip hop night at a big nightclub. Off we pop and I’ve got to admit I was a bit disconcerted. My initial worry was the fact that on the front door were a couple of Sheriff’s deputies, armed. Alas, never worry they have metal detectors at Ministry of Sound I thought.
Inside, where usually would be stood bouncers, were fully uniformed, armed, Sheriff’s deputies – and they had civvy security there as well. I’ve never been to such a well behaved club night in my entire life. I’d hate to have the police inside clubs here, but, numbers and visual deterrence really do make a difference.
The greater good
All the Westcountry exiles I know love the film, ‘Hot Fuzz’. In short, if you haven’t seen it, it’s a comedy about coppers in a rural town. And, if, like I did, you grew up in a rural town you go, yep, that’s the spot. And in the fi;m, they have, the greater good, it’s better that the kids are let down the local pub a couple of years early than they’re roaming the streets. Where I grew up was no exception, we were down the local nightclub at 16.
Let’s face it, when you’re younger you generally can’t handle your booze as well and you generally can’t handle yourself as well whilst boozed. Slipping a through elder teenagers on the cusp of alcoholhood may seem harmless enough but essentially they are at risk. I say nothing more than this, as we don’t know the facts, but I note at this stage that Jordan Malutshi was 17 years old and murdered in a bar.
The younger clubbers were at the centre of the bother on Saturday. There was the standard pushing and chest puffing. And, amusingly for us blokes on the hen party (there were many blokes), the girls in our group were often the target of shall we say, ‘physical overtures’ by the younger drunker guys in the club. Chivalry being dead as it is, we left the ladies to deal with this young guys themselves which they did with ease, mostly with a cutting glance. However, you could see in other situations how it might of all got a bit primal.
Again, the Licensing Act 2003 protects children to a degree from being at these premises by creating a raft of offences in that regard. Sections 145 thru 154 deal with such offences. But, of course there are defences to some of those offences. It’s a defence to take all reasonable steps to establish someone’s age and there’s a defence that nobody could have reasonably suspected the person was under 18 years old.
I point out here, the sale of alcohol to a child is again, fineable only.
In this respect enforcement is a difficulty. Unlike our American cousins, the general public do not see raiding public houses/clubs and checking everybody’s age as an acceptable way to interrupt our evenings off. Nor if we’re entirely honest do the local police have the resources to mount this type of operation regularly enough for it to have any real deterrent value.
How do you legislate to keep kids out of trouble? You can’t simply, not that I can think of anyway. That was one of the very few attractions of Labour’s ID card policy, that this type of problem had some sort of solution. However, it was only really a solution in ruralshire where I grew up. If you’re in London, or Manchester, or Liverpool, you have no end of foreign kids visiting – do you require them to all carry their passports?
In this regard, I have to be honest, I think the potential for harsher sentencing may have a deterrent effect.
It’s all a bit obvious really…
… that over populated, under staffed, over intoxicated clubs, will be a flash zone.
What worries me is how obvious it was to me as a criminal justice professional whilst I was trying to look good on the dancefloor.
We don’t know as of yet if any of my concerns above contributed to Jordan Malutshi’s death. What we do know is that some simple pragmatic steps could be taken to reduce violence in late night venues.
And whilst we’re at it, another few Vomit and Kebab chariots (night buses) wouldn’t hurt you TFL.