Fabric co-founder Cameron Leslie's licensing hearing speech is now online
"The notion that we provide a safe haven for drugs is frankly insulting"
Cameron Leslie, the co-founder and director of fabric, spoke at the club's licensing hearing last night and his full speech is now online.
The hearing took place at Islington Town Hall, lasting for more than six hours, as members of the fabric team, the council and the police spoke in front of a licensing sub-committee.
In his speech, Leslie explained how "for the best part of 12 years we [fabric] were their [Metropolitan Police] darling", detailed how suspected drug dealers were dealt with at the venue and stated "we wholeheartedly do not accept the police stance of endemic failure."
Read the full speech in full below.
I am Cameron Leslie, a co-founder and director of fabric.
I hold a degree in International Hospitality Management and prior to starting fabric I worked in five-star hotels and then became a hospitality and leisure consultant with Deloitte.
As this is the first time a Director Of The Company has been able to address the committee can I express our profound sadness at the two deaths that occurred. We have publicly offered our condolences to the families and friends of those involved.
It shouldn't be underestimated the profound effect something like this has upon our team and particularly our management team and onsite medics who were required to deal with those incidents, and are obviously deeply upset. I would like to publicly thank them for their professionalism in such difficult circumstances.
As I said this is the first time we have been able to address you the Licensing Committee and more so to defend ourselves against the Police statements which have been in the public and media gaze for the past 28 days.
I cannot contest strongly enough the notion that fabric is a "safe haven for drugs."
Prior to us opening in 1999 I said to the Met Police, what sort of venue do you want us to be, do you want us to be like other venues at the time and go about the destruction of drugs by flushing them down the toilet if they even got that far and mete out their own justice on suspected drug dealers at the back of the club in a dark alleyway, or do you want us to be a progressive, open and honest venue, something you can be proud of. This is what the Met wanted of us and for the best part of 12 years we were their darling. Our joint procedures were showcased to other forces around the UK and to problem licensees within London.
Together we established a pioneering confiscation and audit procedure. We have these audit books dating back to our opening. We have never hid anything. We have accepted the supremely complex challenges of dealing with cash, people, drugs and alcohol head on at every level. If we find a suspected drug dealer we take them to a well-lit, CCTV monitored room we sit them down and we have them arrested. Then our team, at our expense, goes to court to seek a conviction.
The notion that we provide a safe haven for drugs is frankly insulting to the considerable efforts we have put in over the years. My co-founder Keith Reilly stood up to a significant organised crime organisation who wanted to run drugs in to this club just after we opened. He had to move his family out of their home and wear a bulletproof vest for nearly a month. So we know very well the real life challenges of running a clean venue in London.
For the past month myself and my fellow directors have had to defend ourselves from the heavy inference that we are ourselves drug dealers. Something I find utterly abhorrent give the stance we have taken against drugs for nearly two decades.
This year alone our team have given 40 days entirely at our own cost in going to court helping to press for convictions of suspected dealers, found by us in our venue. We take our responsibilities very seriously and the notion that we somehow shield this activity is shameful and I would go as far to say it is libellous.
I should like to point out that since 2012 we have had arrested in the region of 80 drug dealers identified at the front door; there has been only one prosecution. So perhaps if the police want to start levelling criticism of how these so-called safe havens exist they should start by looking at themselves and the CPS, because these individuals come back the following week laughing at us.
You only have to look at TripAdvisor or Google Review or the hundreds of emails of complaint I have printed here about the intrusive level of our search to know we take our responsibilities incredibly seriously. Contrary to what the police have written it is absolutely common knowledge we have without question the strictest search procedure of any venue in the UK.
The snapshot picture the Central Licensing Police team paint of us in their statements is not the venue we know, it is not the venue we see on a week-in, week-out basis. It is not picture reported to us by our multiple layers of overt and covert surveillance who report back to us on a weekly basis, nor the management, security and the 250-strong wider team we employ. Crucially, nor does it seem to match the near 1,000 letters of representation, including other operators, competitors, associations, patrons, neighbours, parents, artists and professionals, nor the near 150,000 signatories of the petition. Furthermore we have had an independent consultant, an ex-Police Licensing Inspector, whose reports do not paint the same picture.
fabric is not an unsafe club.
We wholeheartedly do not accept the police stance of endemic failure. We believe this to be grossly unfair and a misrepresentation of a team and evolving operation that has managed 6.75 million people this past 17 years and delivers the equivalent of two Glastonbury festivals in a Central London location each year. We have the highest annual security bill and the highest ratio of security guards to patrons of any venue in the UK. That scale of delivery should not be underestimated.
The fact that there is only one letter of opposition to our licence is surely testament in itself to the fact we do things well. Despite nearly seven million patrons we do not have a history of violence nor knife crime—surely in the modern world this is something that should be celebrated.
Drugs are an issue for all nightclubs. From our very first days we have worked cooperatively with the licensing authority and with the police to tackle this problem as best we can. We have always been open and transparent. Through working together with the police we have refined our search policies and I am delighted to say that the amount of drugs being brought into the club has been significantly reduced as a consequence. This is exhibited in our logs of seized drugs which the Police have access to.
We have commendations from Commander Richard Martin (formerly head of Central Licensing). In September 2013 when Commander Chisty, the Metropolitan Police lead officer on alcohol crime, visited the premises unannounced during Operation Condor, he stated that the club's procedures were "an example of best practice." I have commendations from DCI Hutchison who assessed our procedures in 2014, while former Borough Commander David Eyles held us up as best practice for the whole of his tenure.
District Judge Allison, who spent the week going over our operations and procedures in December last year, called us a "beacon of best practice" and commended our stance on tackling drugs. In as late as June this year Islington Police sent the management of another London venue who had suffered a fatality to us to see how we did it, citing our procedures as the best in the business.
Yet a matter of days later we are damned in a Central Licensing report.
How can this have been the first time in 17 years we have had any notification from the police on some of these issues given they have not only been the architect of many of them but also stress-tested them on many occasions in the past four years alone?
You have the three general managers fabric has had over its 17 years in this room. Each has been trained by his predecessor with the first trained by me. These are some of the best leaders in the night-time business and I question deeply this picture of endemic failure painted by the police. Are the police suggesting they have never conducted any other undercover operations in our 17 years? Because we have never had one bit of feedback.
So what has changed in our business that we are now damned as a venue of endemic failure by the police? We have been the unfortunate location of two more deaths and quite simply they have had enough. They no longer want to work with us and have decided to get the evidence together to get a summary review. If anyone thinks for a second that the sensitively named Operation Lenor, a fabric softner, that Central Licensing undertook and the entirely unprofessional conduct that their lead officer took that night in dealing with our management team tells us that this was an entirely premeditated exercise to find the evidence required to be able to serve a summary review. This team started from the end point and gathered evidence accordingly.
The representations made are not based on any scientific assessment of the club and we wouldn’t tolerate the kind of environment described in these statements:
• "You could tell by people's body language and behaviour that well over 80% of the other people in the club appeared to be under the influence of drugs."
• "5-6 out of 10 people being willing to sell drugs"
• Undercover police state they "notice a man twitching, talking very fast and gurning," they then proceed to talk to him and commit his words as fact to a statement: "He said that he was considering asking one of the bouncers for some. When we probed this further he said that if you are found with drugs the bouncers take this from you and then give it to people that they know."
These sorts of things are hugely damaging to our business and our reputation. We have spent much of the past month answering interviews having to defend ourselves from these erroneous slurs.
I feel I am somehow having to defend our organisation as being an obstructive operator, creating and protecting a dangerous environment. The only time we stood up to the police in 17 years was by refusing two conditions out of 53 they wanted to punish us with in 2014 and I might add were proven entirely correct by a District Judge that they did not support the licensing objectives.
We have always been immensely proud of the close working relationship we have enjoyed with both the Met Police and particularly Islington Council.
A quick snapshot of some of the initiatives we have launched together:
• A Police instigated youth outreach music program, getting seriously damaged kids from De Beauvoir Estate in to music programs at the Club
• Launched the Safer Travel in London initiative
• Date rape drug awareness initiative
• The Hollaback anti-harassment program
• We were pioneering in tackling the blight of mobile phone theft. Creating much of the assets and procedures used by other London venues
• Founder members of the City Of London police independent advisory group
• We host police dog training and tactical fire arms training
• Islington always include fabric in purple flag assessment
• Founders and ongoing chair of the EC1 Pub and Club watch
We have always been a first port of call as a partner to work with on any public initiative.
Drugs are a constantly evolving challenge for clubs like ours and given the circumstances we have of course voluntarily reviewed all our processes and as always we are eager to work with the police on anything else we can do to keep people safe. But venues are so far downstream on their ability to fight these challenges, trying to locate items as small as this one—a person wearing winter coat and bag, maybe up to 25 pockets per person, 2,500 people per night. That could be 62,500 pockets, and that's before you get to the complexities of bras or underwear or things hidden in intimate places.
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. Short of performing a colonoscopy on every clubber, it's impossible to eliminate all drug use in clubs and, indeed, anywhere else.
These are the challenges we face as a night-time operator.
It is a sad but unavoidable fact that it is not possible to remove all drugs from circulation within a nightclub. And even if it were, people would still attend the venue having taken drugs prior to their arrival. It is for this reason that fabric fights the battle with drug use on two fronts: prevention and harm mitigation.
It is of course entirely realistic to expect businesses to develop strong strategies to minimise harm and crime and fabric over the years has been proud of adopting best practice.
We believe we are presenting to you a series of compelling and cohesive points of improvement. We are constantly reinventing our operation, we have always tried to stay ahead of the game. I would like to reiterate my point that 35 of the 53 conditions Islington sought to impose upon us at the 2014 review were our own initiatives, business improvements we had introduced voluntarily. We want to work with police and the council to try and create a gold standard for clubbing safety. Implementing these strategies requires considerable business investment and you need professional and established operations like fabric to stay open.
We could be bold, like Amsterdam and Berlin, which regard nightlife not as a social disorder issue but a tourist attraction or we could be like New York, where neoliberal policies have all but destroyed what was once the most musically innovative and vital club scene in the world. We need the police to work with businesses like us to help them keep people safe, not to demonise us.
If we are going to take that finger-pointing approach, why have the police not stopped drugs from coming in to Britain or being on our streets? Has it become the sole responsibility of nightclubs and some bars to be the last line of defence?
In a climate where pills are circulating the UK with almost four times the dosage of MDMA of most found during the late '90s, what is absolutely urgent in order to prevent more deaths is not the closure of one venue, but the systematic education of young people on the risks and repercussions of the drugs they are taking, up to date and accurate information on dangerously potent batches in the current market, education on recognising warning signs of overdose amongst friends and how to respond.
Dave Turner is Mixmag's Digital News Editor, follow him on Twitter