Fabric, one of London’s most famous nightclubs, has just had its licence revoked. After a licensing review yesterday, the licensing committee said a ‘culture of drug use’ existed at Fabric. The Metropolitan Police submitted an application for a review following two drug-related deaths at the club between June and August this year.
Following the suspension of its licence earlier this month, there was a big online campaign to defend Fabric, with many famous names, including Carl Cox and Lauren Laverne, expressing support. Sadiq Kahn, the new London mayor, initially said he wanted the club to stay open, but has since made clear that he does not have the power to intervene in licensing cases. Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry also offered support to the club, saying closure ‘cannot be the answer’.
The closure of Fabric represents a massive blow to an already blighted industry. Fabric is just the latest in a long line of London clubs to have been shut down in recent years. Recent high-profile closures include Soho club Madame Jojos and Brick Lane’s Vibe Bar, both of which closed as a result of over-zealous licensing laws. But the closure of Fabric has implications beyond the effect it will have on London’s nightlife. The case goes to the very heart of what it is to be a free and responsible citizen in a buzzing, cosmopolitan city like London.
Fabric was reviewed under section 53A of the 2003 Licensing Act. This provision allows for a ‘summary review’ of a venue’s licence following an application by a senior police officer. This process compels a licensing authority to review the conditions of a venue’s licence within 28 days. Significantly, a licensing committee can take ‘interim steps’ immediately against the venue, which can include removing persons from a licence or revoking the licence altogether. This is all before a word of evidence has been tested by a court.
In order to start this process, an officer has to produce a certificate to the effect that the venue is ‘associated with serious crime or disorder’. Until now, these powers have largely been used to target venues that have had a large number of violent incidents. Where a venue had experienced many fights in a narrow period of time, ‘interim steps’ could be taken to ensure short-term spates of violence were effectively controlled. But Fabric’s case is different. The officers dealing with Fabric’s case have applied to the committee on the basis that Fabric is associated, not with violence, but with drug dealing. In other words, they are arguing that because two young men were able to buy drugs in Fabric, then Fabric is somehow responsible for the crime.