View From The Side: Howie B On Fabric

Art & Culture

fabric has had a tense relationship with local authorities as of late.  First there was the legal battle concerning their license at the end of last year. Threatened with imposing harsh measures such as sniffer dogs at the door and ID scans for all customers, things were looking bleak. After fighting and winning the case, fabric looked forward with fresh optimism and a consolidated commitment to keeping a solid, cooperative relationship with both Islington Council’s licensing department and the borough’s police, ensuring club goers and local residents a safe and welcoming environment.

Seven months later, fabric post a statement announcing it’s closure for the weekend, following the death of two 18-year-olds resulting from drug-overdose. A second statement revealing indefinite closure succeeds the first and we sadly learn that the local council will be reviewing the club’s license for a second time.

As we scrolled through our Facebook this morning, we came across this heartfelt post from Howie B in tandem with fabric's second statement and asked if he minded if we published it. In the post, Howie brings our attention to the deflection of responsibility and underhand tactics employed by the police and council that threatens to put an end to our beloved fabric.

I've been going to fabric since the day it opened. I've DJ’d there many times and know the organisation inside out. I'd like to say that I was shocked by the latest action by the Police and Islington Council, but I wasn’t. Almost everyone involved with fabric, or knows anything about the organisation or industry, has known this was coming from the moment that they won the licensing review last December. The judge at the hearing was so embarrassingly critical of police that everyone suspected revenge action would follow swiftly. 

Responsibility is the central theme of this case. After the tragic deaths of two young people at fabric, the police have hijacked this tragedy to seek retribution against the club by holding them responsible. They have used sledgehammer tactics and perverse use of licensing law to hold fabric responsible for these incidents. In effect, they could be responsible for destroying one of the most loved, revered, and indeed one of the safest musical institutions in this country.

My understanding is that this entire case is based on the fact that the victims purchased 2 or 3 tablets of MDMA within the club. Having 'allowed' this to cause the deaths of these unfortunate young people, fabric are now being condemned and punished by a police force that barely manages to prevent their own staff killing people held in cells on their premises. The police appear to have abandoned policing the drug dealing that results in these deaths completely. It matters not that they have been spectacularly unable to do anything to stop the distribution of drugs themselves, despite all the power and resources they possess. Just as they can’t stop it getting into prisons where there are just a few visitors a day that have to submit to stringent search procedures, they have been able to do little to stop it flooding in through Airports, seaports and a variety of other heavily controlled smuggling avenues.

Nightclubs it appears, are unique in as much as they are held to a standard of responsibility that no one else is. Have you ever heard anyone call for the closure of an airport because drug mules pass through daily, flooding our streets with illegal narcotics? I doubt it. Have you ever heard anyone suggest that we close the dover channel crossing or Eurostar because they have allowed their service to become a means of transport for hundreds of tonnes of narcotics, people trafficking, and heaven knows how much other contraband? Of course you haven’t. Just think for a moment how much illegal activity occurs in hotels. Countless drug-related deaths have occured in them. Prostitution and solicitation take place in them. How many conspiracies, major frauds or bank robberies do you think may have been discussed and planned in hotels? Have you ever heard any claim that hotels should be shut down because they are hotbeds of crime? It would clearly be ridiculous to do so. So why are nightclubs the only organistations held accountable in this way? It is plainly wrong and unfair.

I can guarantee you that you will not find another organisation of its size and volume that has put as much time, care and money into drug prevention as fabric. They have an 18-year exemplary record in doing so, attested to throughout their history by the police and indeed Islington council. The abandonment of fabric by the police in tackling this issue is shocking. During my time there I have personally witnessed the chronic lack of support from the police. If fabric catches someone trying to smuggle drugs into the premises, the police simply do want to know, displaying no intention of prosecuting these people. Their solution is always “take a photograph of them and don’t let them back in”. They have undoubtedly formed a view that it is easier to transfer blame to the venues themselves. They have simply decided, much as they have done with other areas of their responsibility, to ignore it. If they are willing to ignore the wholesale systematic rape and abuse of hundreds upon hundreds of children in Rotherham and heavens knows how many other towns up and down the country, should we be surprised about this clear dereliction of duty on drug control? How the hell did we get here? It is ridiculous how we simply accept these police failings.

Consider this. We have all come to accept the fact that if our car is stolen, no one is coming to help. You could have your £150k Bentley stolen and the only option you have is to call the police for a crime number and sacrifice your no claims bonus. In vast swathes of the country that’s the equivalent of having your house stolen in pure financial loss and no one give a flying fig.

If, as I do, you believe that drug control is a police matter and are shocked that the police force you trust and employ to deal with it have effectively and surreptitiously outsourced it, you would be shocked to learn that this is by no means the most serious issue they choose to ignore where nightclubs and the safety of young people is concerned. In October 2002, fabric received a bomb threat 2 weeks after the bombing of a nightclub in Bali. The police force's shameful dereliction of duty in it's reaction to this was on a truly staggering scale. I sat there in amazement whilst the directors of the company pleaded with the police for some support advice or assistance. They would not send one single officer to the premises.The conversation went on for six hours and the only assistance they were prepared to offer was a roll of blue and white crime scene tape. Even that pitiful contribution was only available if they went to Islington police Station to collect it themselves. I have no effective medium to convey to you the level shock, fear, and disillusionment I felt that day.  This was in a period when they were telling us all that terrorism is the number one priority, this indicates the low level priority drug control generally receives. I remember very well during this period that terrorism and lack of funding was always the reason given to excuse their refusal to deal with police matters, which I personally find hard to accept.

They did not experience funding difficulties when following their disgraceful handling of the Stephen Lawrence case; they used public funding to hire private detectives to discredit his grieving family. They had no problem finding who knows how many millions to defend those officers, regardless of the abhorrent nature of their accused crimes. I do not know exactly how much police funding was used to defend officers and obscure the truth from the families of the Hillsborough victims, but I feel sure it was many millions of tax payers' money used in a monumental effort to yet again blame someone else for their own failings and lie about it for 25 years. Over 200 officers conspired with each other and the force command to manufacture evidence and not one of them charged. How on earth can that happen. I am utterly bewildered that given the propensity and willingness of the police to manufacture and doctor evidence on this truly colossal scale, and in relation to an incident involving the deaths of 96 people that fabric now have to suffer the restriction of not even being allowed to challenge the police evidence against them. The constructive and willful destruction of a wonderful institution and company is being conducted with little or no legal rights or privileges that should be expected in any such legal process. It is being conducted in a council hall by a small group of council officials that have no legal background or training at all, some of which have openly stated their personal desire to see fabric closed. Objectivity, neutrality and fairness I fear will be in acutely short supply from these councilors who are utilising licensing law to proclaim themselves judge, jury and hangman. There will be no witness box and therefore no means by which fabric may contest or cross examine the evidence or accusations made against them.

It is absolutely crazy that a small group of councilors with no legal training can be allowed to tinker with, distort, and manipulate national laws to suit their whims in a council banquet hall. This is not a court of law, when these are clearly matters for a court of law. They have overstepped the bounds of their authority and are possibly guilty of misconduct in public office. The strategy they have employed bears all the hallmarks of a witch-hunt designed to cause maximum damage. They served these papers on a Wednesday night for a hearing at 5pm on the Friday night of the same week, knowing that in doing this, they would deprive fabric of any means to prepare and defend themselves. It is also very clear to see that this ridiculous listing time was designed to ensure that fabric would have to close: transparent and dispicable tactics. Why else would anyone plan a hearing to commence 4 hours before the venue was due to open? 

None of us can begin to imagine the trauma and depth of sadness that has engulfed the families of these poor boys. Equally, I can understand the search to understand how this could have happened. What I can tell them with absolute honesty is that whilst the police have clearly and undeniably abandoned this area of policing and the victims themselves in doing nothing to protect them unscrupulous dealers, the directors of fabric have done everything in their power to prevent it. They haven’t been the last line of defence, they have been the only line of defence. They have been the only ones prepared to do anything to keep young people safe and they are there doing everything they can when someone does something foolish. This was summed up by the Judge in the review process in December 2015. She stated that from all the evidence presented to her, fabric is clearly a "beacon of good practice" and commended the fabric operations team and medical facilities. She also alluded to fact that the measures that police were seeking to implement (sniffer dogs) were in fact more damaging than helpful. It was recognized by the court that sight of the dogs caused young people to panic and ingest all the drugs in their possession and causing them to overdose.  

Because they chose to stand up to them, the directors of fabric have been subject to numerous death threats from criminal gang, while the police yet again did nothing to deter such threats. The directors were standing on the front door in bullet proof vests for months, illustrating the length that fabric and its dedicated passionate staff are prepared to go to. I saw it with my own eyes and would be prepared to swear to any of the claims I make here, in any court in the land. Of course I will not be allowed to do this, because the police are ensuring this entire subversion of justice takes place in the kangaroo court of a council committee hearing. The process is controlled entirely by the police and council officials, who have an agenda and declared intention to shut down the nightlife industry, a misguided and arrogant purge that will do nothing but endanger young people further.

We are heading straight back to illegal rave culture. Almost anyone can apply for a temporary license to host a pop up event. While the term 'Pop up' sounds quite cute and trendy, the reality I can assure you is very different. They are not regulated or inspected in the way that clubs such as fabric are and do not have the medical staff or operational systems established venues have taken years to perfect. They are not there next week when something goes wrong. At a recent death at another venue, there was no paramedic at all. The police have chosen to do nothing about this case, Seemingly indicating a discriminatory law for fabric, and another for others.

fabric has the safest and most regulated infrastructure of any venue I know. Because these incidents are increasing nationwide, we must acknowledge something has changed. Drugs are getting much stronger and much more freely available. Dealers are left free to operate with impunity. We must stop the deluded head burying police strategy and confront the problem. In the midst of this free for all, what are venues expected to do? Should they require all of their customers to submit to a full cavity search? From the evidence presented by the police, it would appear the poor souls involved in the fabric incidents are both the perpetrators and the victims of the crime that led to their untimely demise. By having admitted to buying 20 pills and smuggling them into the venue themselves, they are indicated as the dealers themselves in accordance with police protocol.

If we allow ourselves to participate in the delusion that favours suppressing the problem and driving it underground into unlicensed temporary venues, we will have only succeeded in making young people more vulnerable and unsafe. If we allow the persecution, bullying and destruction of one of our most loved music venues, we probably deserve to live in this kind of police state where such injustices occur. If I was fabric, I would be getting ready to sue the police and the council for the damages they have caused, and I think it would only fair if they took steps to try a recover a substantial element of their security costs from the police budget. They've been forced into doing the police’s work for all this time, compelled by outdated, not fit for purpose licensing law. It is the licensing law and indeed the police that need a review.

There are legions of fabric fans out there. Two generations of us have grown up going there regularly. There will be a massive campaign and a you.govpoll appearing very soon. There is also talk of a crowd-funding scheme to fight the police in their attempts to use licensing law as a tool to force nightclubs to do their work for them. You simply must sign up and support these guys. When the police tried to impose dogs at venues, they were told two things. First, they are only 23% accurate and they would therefore blight the lives of the remaining 77%. and second, it is categorically illegal to use dog searches on the street. It constitutes infringement and invasion of your civil and human rights. Despite this they attempted (again through back door licensing laws) to compel fabric to break these laws and do their dirty work for them. fabric stopped this happening single handedly for the benefit of us all. We cant leave them to fight this one alone and we can't abandon them as the police have done.

This one is too big. It’s not just about fabric. It is about us all. it is about our civil liberties and stopping the police destroy the city we love. It about stopping the perpetual corruption and abuse of process they engage in.


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