Out of touch

Fabric gets shut down, but will it do more harm than good?
By Joey Levenson | Current affairs | 7 September 2016

Top image via Resident Advisor

In the early hours of this morning, Islington Council officially shut down world-famous London nightclub Fabric. Chair of the committee council Flora Williamson claimed the decision to revoke the club’s license was due to its “culture of drugs” that it was “incapable of controlling”.

The final decision has been the subject of much debate over the past month, after the Met police opened up a case to permanently close Fabric after two teenagers died at the venue within weeks of each other from drug-related causes. The Met Police’s actions came under claims that “officers felt the need to act due to concerns about the safety of those attending.”

This isn’t the first time Fabric’s livelihood has been threatened. Last time, the people of London were able to save the club with a petition that reached nearly 8,000 signatures. This time around, however, a petition had circulated that gathered over 150,000 signatures – but failed to impact the council’s decision.

Unsurprisingly, the closure of Fabric has gathered much outrage on social media, with some speculating it could even be a long-winded plan by the council to convert the property in to high-end flats, much like the 2002 case of the club Hacienda in Manchester. Jacob Husley, a nightlife promoter in the city and the man who started the petition to save Fabric, told the Guardian: “We are in shock. I am feeling a mixture of disbelief and anger and sadness…[It’s] a devastating blow for London and culture, and clubs across the UK. It sets a precedent.”

Earlier this week, co-founder Cameron Leslie claimed that they “always had a fantastic relationship with police and particularly the council” – clearly, until now. Back in 2015, Fabric won an appeal against the council‘s attempt to enforce the 2003 Licensing Act by successfully proving that they had measures in place to tackle dangerous intake of drugs in their club. The 2003 Licensing Act was a legislation against the club that hoped to enforce things such as sniffer dogs, invasive searching, and the “three strike rule.” After much debate, the judge had ruled these tactics as actually “undermining” the efforts to minimise drug use, and the case was settled in Fabric’s favour.

From a firsthand perspective Fabric always seemed to maintain a very strict policy on drug possession and use. Their rules on search and constant security were nothing if not hugely thorough. However, the implementation of a severe presence inclusive of sniffer dogs only serves to foster a fear-inciting culture that has proved itself, globally, to have negative effects – just like the death of a young Perth girl in 2009, after swallowing all her drugs for fear of being apprehended by police at a festival entrance.

Now, the tragic fact that two young boys have died in a London club brings into sharp relief the drug situation in the UK. It’s no secret that substance use in the city is increasing. According to the Global Drug Survey, people are now seeking a higher potency in MDMA than ever before. Even more alarming is that the European Monitoring Drug Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction found that London has both the highest intake of cocaine and ecstasy in Europe.

The situation highlights a desperate need for the government to address these issues not with useless bandaid solutions – but by fostering a more open dialogue and education surrounding drugs.

But what the situation, and the council’s handling of it, highlights further is the desperate need for the government to address such issues not with useless bandaid solutions – but by fostering a more open dialogue and education surrounding drugs. Release, a UK centre for expertise on drug and drug use, recently proved that decriminalisation laws can actually benefit our society. Educating, assisting, and helping is something that is more likely to eliminate drug-related deaths than the current zero-tolerance approach the Met have adopted. For example, after a young student died at British festival Kendal Calling last year from drug-related effects, the festival quickly implemented a drug testing tent at their 2016 site. The tent, whilst controversial, was used to promote safer and more informed drug use. No drug-related deaths were reported from Kendal Calling this year.

Such approaches are more sustainable than shutting down nightlife, such actions will only drive those who want to take drugs into different environments, many of which will have a lesser – or zero – security presence, leaving safety and concern in the hands of friends or randoms. The Met’s actions in this instance only anger the people the people they claim to be trying to “protect”, the reason being it’s not a solution.

So when will the growing conversation of drug use finally reach the government? Things aren’t looking good: when the now-booted-chancellor George Osborne released his spending reviews, it was to no surprise that any resource which could contribute towards the education of drugs had faced severe slashes between 2011 and 2015. Communities and Local Governments faced a massive deduction of 60% cut in spending, as well as the decline of 10% in Education. Sadly, as long as an institutionalised culture of white-washing drug use in relation to culture exists, the situation isn’t likely to improve.

Drug researcher Jay Levy agrees that turning a blind eye to young people taking drugs, and then shutting down the institutions where they consume them, does nothing but encourage the use of drugs in other corners of the city, spread dangerous misinformation, and keeps the use of drugs firmly on the isolated bench of anarchy. In his book The Harms of Drug Use, which contains extensive research into the stigmatisation of drug laws, Levy finds that “the stigma and discrimination that justifies and facilitates such laws and policies – legislation which is predominantly driven by ideology and moral assumption – serves only to compound and multiply the harms [of drugs].” Today’s decision is a devastating blow not only to London’s nightlife, but a sharp reminder of how out of touch our own governing body is with the realities of living in modern society.

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