Why did Brixton Academy close and will Met Police allow it to re-open?

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

The future of the O2 Academy Brixton will be decided this month after the Metropolitan Police called for it to lose its licence in the wake of a crowd crush which killed two people last year.

The two-day hearing on September 11 and 12 will see Lambeth Council decide whether to bring the shutters down on the famous venue or allow it to stay open on revised terms.

Police say they have “lost confidence” in the operator to run the venue, but the venue believes that with changes such as new crowd control barriers, it could reopen safely.

Here’s all you need to know about what happened in December, why police want the venue to lose its licence, and what could happen at next week’s hearings.

Who is behind the O2 Academy Brixton?

Police at the scene on Stockwell Park Walk near Brixton’s O2 Academy (John Dunne)
Police at the scene on Stockwell Park Walk near Brixton’s O2 Academy (John Dunne)

Academy Music Group (AMG) owns and runs the venue, which has won the NME Best Venue award 12 times since 1994 and hosted more than 50 live albums.

Brixton Academy opened in 1929 as a cinema, before being converted into a discotheque in 1972. It became a concert hall in 1983.

AMG also owns the O2 Shepherd’s Bush Empire and other O2 Academy venues in Islington, Bournemouth, Glasgow, Leeds, Bristol, Liverpool, Leicester, Sheffield and others.

What happened during the fatal crowd crush?


The crush happened at a performance by Afrobeats singer Asake on December 15, when some concert-goers, some of whom were thought to be ticketless, tried to force their way into the sold-out gig.

Gaby Hutchinson, a 23-year-old security guard, and Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, a mother of two from Newham lost their lives amid the chaotic crowd surge.

A third woman remains in a critical condition eight months on.

Why do police want it closed?

In January the venue’s licence was suspended. In a follow-up letter to the council, the Met said earlier this year it had “lost confidence” in the operator, AMG.

Officers said they encountered scenes of “large-scale disorder" and arrived to find security staff "completely out of control of the situation".

The force claims after talks it was not able to find solutions with the venue in talks, leading to the application for the licence to be removed.

However, AMG has applied for permission to install enhanced security measures, including new crowd barriers, spotlighting to better illuminate the queues, and a system of tannoys that would be used to inform gig-goers of security announcements.

It has submitted its own application - called a variation application - which would allow it to stay open under revised terms if approved.

What are the arguments for keeping the venue open?

More than 116,000 people have signed a petition to save the venue, while the lobbying body the Night Time Industries Association has launched a campaign for councillors to keep the venue open.

Campaigners say the Brixton O2 is “an iconic London music venue” and that a vital piece of the capital’s cultural scene would be lost if it were forced to close.

They argue that it can be reopened in a safe capacity, and that since its licence was suspended, local businesses have lost £500,000 a week.

So what will happen at the hearing?

Councillors at the two day hearing will face a choice: Either accept the Met’s submission and strip Academy Music Group of its licence to operate, or decide in AMG’s favour and allow it to stay open on revised terms.

The Met, which has since launched a criminal investigation involving a range of potential allegations including corporate manslaughter, is expected to argue the seriousness of what occurred on December 15 means councillors should revoke the Academy’s licence.

But AMG is likely to point to steps it wants to take which it believes would allow it reopen. Councillors will hear from both the police, AMG, and members of the public who have an opinion on either side of the debate.

However, the exact arguments each side will make will become clear next week, when papers lodged with the council will become public.