Emily Mee 13th February 2018
Olivia Burt probably would have been looking forward to a fun-filled night out with her university friends. She would have likely got dressed up, had a few drinks, and headed out for what should have been a normal night of partying. On that same night, thousands of young people across the country would have done exactly the same. For many of us, it’s almost a routine.
But for the 20-year-old, the unthinkable happened that night — she didn’t make it home.
The student was tragically crushed following a crowd surge as she queued outside Durham’s popular Missoula nightclub.
A witness said it was the biggest student night of the week and, after a rival student union night was stopped, the club was busier than usual.
They described how two queues, the first of which Olivia was in, had formed at the rear entrance and were separated by a metal barrier.
The incident happened, they said, when a group of 10 to 15 people at the back pushed forward and sent the crowd surging into the barriers, knocking them over. Olivia suffered a serious head injury and was administered CPR at the scene, but could not be saved.
According to witnesses, these temporary barriers had fallen over before, and locals, including MP Roberta Blackman-Woods, had complained that the leisure complex was not suitable for crowds.
It’s not something most people imagine happening — yet, how many of us have been in queues so packed in that you feel like you can hardly breathe? Or seen barriers toppling over as impatient partygoers push to get ahead?
And it’s not just nightclub queues – it’s outside concerts and festivals too.
People were pushing from all sides. I passed out
Alice Philpott and her friend were on a university sports tour in Croatia when they experienced a crush while trying to exit a nightclub.
“It was a huge club with a couple of hundred people in, and one corridor to let people in and out,” she says.
“It got really busy so my friend and I decided to go outside but we got stuck in the corridor.
“As many people were trying to get in as were trying to get out, people were pushing from all sides.
“I passed out and the next thing I know we were walking home in tears.
“There were no members of staff available and people were getting trampled.
“It was horrific,” she adds.
University student Jess Staley also remembers being part of dangerous crowds. She says that at one point, it was happening every week.
There were girls all around me having panic attacks
She describes how on one occasion she was crushed by a metal barrier.
“It fully went over and a few of us went with it.
“There were girls all around me having panic attacks and being lifted out of the queue, and security were either not even there or just yelling at people to stop… which obviously didn’t work.”
As Holly Douthwaite recalls, she was queueing outside a concert venue when a group of around 50 people turned up and started to push through to the front of the queue.
Her friend was pushed up against the barrier and was struggling to breathe until Douthwaite managed to move the barrier enough for her friend to escape.
She says after the “horrible experience”, security escorted the group back to the nearest tube station and wouldn’t allow them into the venue.
Luckily, none of these incidents resulted in serious injuries. But on other occasions, the consequences have been much graver.
Back in 2011, a crush at a nightclub in Northampton led to the deaths of two female students. Nabila Nanfuka, 22, and 19-year-old Laurene-Danielle Jackson were killed while trying to leave the Lava and Ignite club, after the DJ made announcements urging club-goers not to miss their coaches home. An inquest found that a lack of monitoring of the night’s events and management of the cloakroom were also factors in the women’s deaths.
A Christmas event in Newcastle in 2015 also saw three people taken to hospital after emergency services were called to a suspected crush outside Digital nightclub.
However, Alan D Miller, Chairman of Night Time Industries Association, points out that these tragedies are extremely rare, given that some 300 million visits are made to night-time venues after 8pm every year in the UK.
He says: “The terrible tragedy in Durham is deeply saddening and a terrible loss — and as we understand the premises has been closed pending a full investigation.”
Miller explains that UK bars and nightclubs have seen increasing regulations on age checks, meaning queues are getting longer.
Drunk people who are being forced to wait can become impatient quickly.
“The rules that are imposed force venues to stop people, hold them, search them rigorously … (it) means that people are often kept waiting so that no venue faces the accusation that it did check absolutely everyone rigorously.”
Half of all premises have closed in the last decade, partly as a result of these regulations, Miller says.
The last thing any of us wants is for our bars, nightclubs and concert venues to close down. So what exactly can be done?
A spokesperson from the Deltic Group, which operates 57 bars and clubs throughout the UK, says it is partnering with digital identity app, Yoti, so that customer IDs can be checked quicker and queues can be reduced.
Tony Sophoclides from the Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers adds that many venues are signed up to voluntary industry schemes including Best Bar None and Purple Flag to share information between venues and promote safety across towns and city centres.
It’s certainly a step in the right direction.
High profile cases like the Hillsborough disaster, in which 96 people died, have made security staff more aware of the dangers of crowds.
Bouncer Paul Cobb told The Overtake that crowd management is a serious matter and any large event must ensure it meets safety regulations before it is allowed to go ahead.
He says: “All incidents have planned and scripted responses, so in the event of a surging crowd, barriers would be removed and crowd management teams deployed, then medical staff would be dispatched to deal with any injuries.”
He says that incidents can occur, especially with drunk and rowdy crowds, but effective management from security and the venue can stop anything serious happening and there are things that can be done to prevent queues from becoming dangerous.
“Pedestrian barriers laid out correctly, stewards ushering people — both the correct way and to disperse the crowd evenly into several gates — for instance.
“Also if any ticketing is used then well thought out procedures and staffing is essential.”
As well as this, all large events require meetings with the police, fire brigade, council and highways agencies to identify any safety risks.
The trouble is, the management and security of venues is not always to blame. There will always be people who try pushing to the front of queues, failing to realise what the consequences could be. Of course, for those in the middle, there is no fighting the tide of people cascading forward. When you add alcohol to the mix, it’s a dangerous combination.
Miller notes that people who cause harm to others have an individual responsibility, and should be held accountable. But there is also a responsibility of venues to ensure that crowds are managed effectively and all risks are assessed.
We don’t know yet whether Olivia’s death could have been prevented, or who is responsible — that’s for the police investigation to uncover. It was the worst thing that could have happened, and there are plenty of venues across the country which work hard to maintain a safe environment.
Even so, we need to evaluate what can be done, and ensure that this never happens again.
Emily Mee 13th February 2018