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Published on 31st August 2016

Inside The Undercover Police Report Threatening Fabric's Closure

Originally published on Pulse.

The dance music underground has been rapt in attention over the past weeks as beloved London clubbing institution fabric has been at the centre of controversy, police inquiry and rumours of closure after two deaths occured at the club in June. The Metropolitan Police in London have filed a report on the club that aggressively states that the club should be closed indefinitely, and Pulse Radio has obtained the documents. 

Statements from The Met's submission to revoke fabric’s license reveal that the stringency of conditions proposed by that body for ‘public safety’ are incompatible with a healthy and successful clubbing environment. More importantly, it’s clear that neither full compliance with stricter licensing conditions or closure of fabric would meaningfully address the dangers of drug taking culture in the UK or prevent more deaths like those that motivated the police to push for fabric’s closure in the first place.

The application submitted to Islington Council by The Met paints a damning picture. In addition to a detailed police analysis of the club’s operation, there are statements from police regarding the six drug related deaths that have been linked to the club over the last five years, and witness statements from undercover officers who participated in a covert visit to the venue in early July. The undercover report cites obvious drug use amongst patrons and describes a lack of sufficient intervention on the part of the club staff to prevent it. The observations of misconduct on the part of fabric range from lack of a thorough search at the door, to implications of security guard tolerance of and even involvement in drug distribution, the latter based purely, it should be noted, on comments made to the undercover officers by punters on ground.

Much of the total police report focuses on the lack of adherence on the part of fabric to their agreed licensing conditions––a fact which fabric contests. Once you start going through the hundreds of expressions of support for fabric which have been sent to Islington Council by punters and professionals alike to counter the police application, it’s clear that in many ways it’s a case of ‘he said/she said’ regarding how consistently fabric adheres to its strict licensing conditions.

Opening excerpt of Police witness statement following covert visit to club (dubbed Operation Lenor) in July

But as the police itemise conditions throughout their report that they believe aren’t being adhered to, and stipulate further suggestions for a safe environment, it becomes increasingly apparent that a nightclub which abides by all the regulations outlined by the police will not be a successful one - the conditions creating an over-regulated environment which is unappealing to the average punter - drug taker or not - and far removed from the kind of nightlife experience fabric has built its name on. Let’s start with entry. The covert operation statement describes the search process at the door as “not thorough” and lasting for “less than 10 seconds”. Anyone who has experienced what the police consider a ‘thorough’ search will know it to be an invasive and unpleasant process and if security are expected to be more thorough, for longer, that encourages tactics like reaching inside a woman’s bra or feeling a man’s crotch - which is an invasion of personal space at best and sexual assault at worst, leaving patrons feeling angry and violated, not to mention the unviable delays to an already swollen queue.

Another breach of licensing conditions highlighted in the police report involved a “lack of enforcement regarding loitering” in the smoking area. It’s baffling why it is even a condition at all to move people on from the one area which serves as a refuge in an intense nightclub like fabric in which to catch some air, give your legs and ears a break, and connect with a strangers in a way that basically represents what club culture is all about. Conditions also require that security guards carry out random searches on patrons in the smoking area, which the covert officers noted was not being carried out on their visit. What sort of a Saturday night involves not only a thorough turn down at the door, but another impromptu search of your person when you’re trying to relax in between dancefloor sessions? Conducting these searches on random patrons would create an unpleasant, uncomfortable and hostile environment, not to mention encouraging those with drugs to take them all early to avoid discovery.

In pursuit of complete surveillance of the premises as the best and only means of ensuring public safety, the London Metropolitan police criticise the poor visibility within fabric. “Design visibility is hampered by recessed doorways, remote alcoves…and steep changes in gradient,” they state, essentially describing the architectural aspects that give fabric its unique and world-renowned atmosphere. “The situation is aggravated by poor levels of lighting and large crowds of customers congregating in certain parts of the club” …. like the dance floor, for example? After declaring some of the defining design features of, not just fabric, but the majority of successful dance music clubs in Europe to be part of the problem, they go on to make their own suggestions as to just what kind of paint job might prevent drug related deaths: “the majority of materials used within fabric are dark in colour and matte in texture and absorb light, limiting visibility further. Light colour finishes on walls and ceilings should be used.” It’s remarkable that a police report would include suggestions on interior design at all, but the comments read like the standards for a daycare centre rather than a nightclub.

Reading the police suggestions - which ultimately conclude that the best way to ensure public safety is by the closure of fabric entirely - it’s clear that their view of a safe clubbing environment is not at all compatible with a successful and desirable club space - for fabric or any other venue like it. But there is a far, far more important problem with their recommendations, because the implementation of the overly-stringent suggested measures - or the ultimate closure of fabric - will in in no quantifiable way stop young people from taking drugs, address the problem of unsafe drug use or stop further drug related deaths from occurring in London or anywhere else in the UK - the prevention of which was the whole premise for launching this attack on fabric in the first place.

More observations from Operation Lenor

It is a battle the police cannot win with this tactic. fabric will never be able to search, supervise, redesign, patrol or even paint the club in such a way that can completely prevent drug taking on the premises whilst drugs are as embroiled in clubbing and dance music culture as they are. Nor will its closure alone have any real impact on the safety of those in the London clubbing scene when there are always other options for a similar experience. fabric has been targeted because of the tragic drug related deaths of 6 young people on or soon after leaving the premises, but the higher proportion of deaths here than other venues can be attributed to its higher profile and resultantly high turnover of patrons per year, many of whom are inexperienced clubbers, rather than a reflection of poor practice on the part of staff and owners. If fabric’s licence is under threat, then the nightlife industry on the whole is under threat.

Among the countless reports submitted to Islington Council defending the club and its responsible management is that of a journalist and high level worker from one of fabric’s rival venues, who explained, “fabric is, simply put, one of the most well-run and high profile venues in the world. An attack on them is an attack on all of us who work week-in, week-out under prohibition to make a safe space. We are here to help, working under near impossible terms, to stem an unstoppable tide.” 

In what fantasy world do the presumably experienced officers of the Metropolitan Police imagine closure of all of the London clubs that show frequent signs of drug use on the premises will deter young people from taking drugs altogether? On what planet are the fabric premises - with on site paramedics, countless staff and established safety protocols, considered a less safe environment for the inevitable drug-taking involved in youth culture than an unregulated warehouse space, or a private house party, or a field in the middle of nowhere? - which is exactly where young people will end up taking their illegal substances if London’s legal club culture is dismantled. In a climate where pills are circulating the UK with almost twice 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 of 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, and a means to test, on site, the strength and consistency of the drugs they intend to take, like the pill testing trialled at this year’s Secret Garden Party in July.

Recommendations from police application to Islington Council to revoke Fabric's license 

The police response to the very real issue of drug safety ploughs stubbornly in the wrong direction, if harm minimisation is the goal. Of course a level of security and deterrence is required, but of far greater efficacy and urgency is the need to instil a sense of personal responsibility and awareness amongst clubbers. There is a recklessness in the attitude of many young and inexperienced drug takers which is only heightened by security measures as strict as those recommended by The Met for fabric.

There is a tipping point at which the more rules and regulations imposed on an individual the less responsibility that individual assumes for his or her own actions; the security crackdowns, the closures, they all foster a sense of anger and rebellion when we should be promoting a culture of accountability for the individual as much as for the venue, the police or the government. One of the emails sent to Islington Council in support of fabric is from Amsterdam’s Night Mayor, Mirik Milan, where he approves of the safety measures in place at fabric but cautions that, “pushing fabric with too many additional conditions would be counterproductive as reports from The Netherlands and Australia have shown”. He also touches on the issue of personal responsibility, stating “people should be aware of the dangers and treat their bodies with respect. This is still their own decision.”

To most people reading this, fabric’s value to the music industry hardly needs stating. The 917 pages of emails sent to the Council from those supporting the club, including not just punters and staff, but high level members of the music industry from promoters to rival club owners, agencies, labels and DJs not just in the UK but all over the world, and the “Save fabric” petition which, at time of writing, stands at over 98 000 online signatures, are merely the most immediate way to gauge the venue’s immense value to so many. But, in many ways, fabric’s value is besides the point - and a hard line to argue when pitted against the value of the lives of the poor young people that have died, or others that may in the future. The point, instead, is the complete lack of value of its closure in preventing drug related deaths in London, or anywhere else in the UK. The police’s efforts are thoroughly misdirected; we can only hope the council will be less short-sighted.

Islington council decides fabric's future on Tuesday the 6th of September.