Gaming Editor Louis Wright interviews two anonymous sources, discussing the crowd crush that occurred at Fab’n’Fresh on the 11th November 2023. This investigation includes a comment from The Guild of Students’ Communications Department.

Gaming Editor | ( ̶T̶e̶m̶p̶) Lead Developer | MA Film & Television Research & Production | BSc Computer Science | BurnFM Deputy Station Manager | Generally Epic
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The publication of this article has been an ongoing process for Editor-in-Chief Alex Taylor and Print & Features Editor Jess Parker since November 2023.

TW: Injury, trauma, spiking.

The views of GS and FA do not reflect that of Redbrick. Data suggested by GS and FA are based on personal estimations and experiences.

Dick and Dom at FAB was set to be one of the biggest nights of the year for The University of Birmingham Guild of Students. With such star power, it would be assumed that the event would be soundly planned. In spite of this, there was a crowd crush on the night, with Dick and Dom leaving the venue shortly after their act began. 

Redbrick has since been contacted by an anonymous source, who I will refer to as Guild Security (GS). Through the information and statements provided by GS, Redbrick has discovered  information pertaining to the cause of the crowd crush and the systemic problems within the Guild that allowed it to occur.

The major point of contention from GS is the number of tickets that were sold for the event in comparison to the capacity of the Underground. “On the Guild website the capacity for the underground is 150 (seated) 660 (standing). Around 1200 tickets were sold at 8pm on the night. At 11pm 1600 were sold.” This means that the number of attendees on the night could have reached around triple the capacity of the Underground (660).

GS explained, with regards to the number of security on shift, that “Usually we need about one per 100 people as per guidelines.” However they elaborated that with “15 Security Scheduled to work” and with “Only six of these actual security i.e. SIA certified. So those are the people first aid trained etc. and know what to do. The rest are more just there as vest fillers almost.” With this guidance in mind, since ticket sales were at 1600, 16 security staff should have been scheduled at minimum.  For these people to be considered ‘actual security’, as GS puts it, they should all  have had SIA certification. This means the actual event was  short of 10 security officers with SIA  training (16 were scheduled). GS told us that “The experienced (SIA licenced) security were trying their hardest to do what they could, but the non-experienced security didn’t know anything about how to handle a crush situation and it was not something they were warned about during the briefing.”

While this is not the first big event of the year, Big Narstie being a headliner for the second FAB night of the year, crowd crushes were not an issue prior. GS suggested that this is due to the use of crush barriers and properly organised systems. 

GS told us that “On previous events such as Big Narstie, we had rented in crush barriers. For this event (I’m guessing cost savings) they made a decision to not do so. Supposedly all of the people who wanted to come to FAB wanted to see Dick and Dom, so they were originally expecting 1200 people to get in a room designed for 660 people, now it went up to 1349 people going into a room for 660 (Joe’s Bar and The Mermaid Bar were also open). The duty manager on the shift said that if it starts to “look” busy downstairs we would incorporate a one-way system. This wasn’t put into place until after the crush happened.”

“When Dick and Dom started, they got through about one and a half songs before they had to stop immediately due to safety reasons. Security had to pull people that were being crushed up onto the stage. We had multiple people attend our chillout room for crushing, with mainly bruising injuries and hyperventilation. Even an hour or so after Dick and Dom left, we still had people being crushed in the UG, and this was when Joe Jaxson was playing. This would have been fine if they had Dick and Dom in the debate hall which has the capacity.”

The Guild have been attempting to reinvent FAB for the 2023/24 academic year, introducing big headliners like Big Narstie and Dick and Dom. However, GS has told us that  there is a failure in organisation and admin for these events. The Guild is a charity and a students’ union, representing 38,000 students. It claims to want to ‘help’ and ‘support’ students, and create ‘fun’ events for their benefit. 

In the case of this event though, GS told us: “It was poorly planned, understaffed, and doomed from the start.”

Outside of the specific events at FAB, discussions with Guild Security (GS) continued into the operation of the Guild and how they handle events and the training of their staff (specifically the security team).

They told us: “So what the guild do, is that the “capacity” for the event is the sum of the capacity of the open rooms. Joe’s and Underground are open (Joe’s capacity is 600) but they are using that to add to the capacity of the underground when obviously the people won’t be anywhere else when Dick and Dom are playing.” This presents the problem of overcrowding as the rooms can fill past their recommended capacity, especially when attendees are gathered to see a specific headline act. In regards to the alleviation of this issue the “Debate Hall has an official capacity of 480 which is the same, but obviously it’s bigger and could have been easier to manage access in and out since multiple entry points.” GS believes that if necessary planning had taken place then the crowd crush at the Guild would not have taken place.

GS informed us that part of the reason for why the crushing incident occurred was due to the lack of crush-barriers. These allow for more efficient crowd control in spaces like concerts and clubs and help protect attendees. The Guild does not own these and rather rents them on an event by event basis. “Anti-crush barriers work, I have no idea why the Guild didn’t have them, or why they don’t just flat out own them. The reason people are falling over is that there is a small wall about knee height from the speakers which are directly in front of the stage, if you get pushed against it only the bottom half of your body is braced against something, hence you go down.”

At least one person was injured in the crowd crush to the point of seeking hospital care. Redbrick approached a student who attended FAB on November 11th and was injured as a result of the incident that occurred there. Wanting to remain anonymous, I will refer to them as FAB Attendee (FA) who gave the following recount:

“This year FAB has been getting bigger and bigger acts. It was fine previously but Dick and Dom being there made it different. I feel that other nights with big names have been general fab nights but people were seeing Dick and Dom for the joke so the turnout was so much bigger. The room doesn’t have the capacity for that many people and its common sense to have that many people so it sort of backfired.

At around 1:30am Dick and Dom came out and they were only there for about a minute and a half. I was five rows from the front and everyone flooded in to see them. It got way too busy to a point where you couldn’t move and couldn’t go anywhere. This made it so Dick and Dom left the stage because of how unsafe it was. It felt like there were no security measures in place.

Most people assumed they’d be back on at some point so just stuck around to see them come back. I know a lot of people were annoyed that they left so early. Joe Jackson came out to play his set and said that Dick and Dom would be back. Everyone thought he meant then so came back into the underground.

It became very crowded again and I was still at the front of the room. There were so many people that I was literally carried up off of the floor by the number of people and my feet weren’t touching the floor. I blacked out from the crush and the next thing I knew was being carried out of the crowd. I was in the chill out room in a lot of pain but there wasn’t much security could do past basic first aid, especially because it seemed like some of them weren’t trained in it. I went to the QE because I was in awful pain and they found that I cracked a rib.

A cracked rib sounds worse than it is because of where it is and it’s not something you hear about happening often. But also it’s not something I expect to happen in the Guild and I had to take time out of doing sports because of it.

Other events didn’t seem to have these numbers and it’s common sense to say if 1200 people are showing up you don’t let them all into a room that can hold 550. It’s interesting to think about when you go to an external club they have external security and monitoring and management, there’s people to hold them accountable. But if it’s an internal event for the Guild who holds the organisers accountable? What’s the oversight?

You can’t really play the blame game with organisers and security though because they aren’t really at fault. Like it’s not just one person’s fault. In hindsight it’s easy to say that it was a dangerous event but it’s also common sense. Maybe implement systems to monitor the number of ticket sales or measure the number of people going in and out of a room. The guild is great and fine but there could be more transparency, they make posts saying they’re doing stuff and taking feedback but you never actually see action being taken.”

For FA, the fact that  an event of this scale resulted in a crowd crush and injury, raises questions on internal management of the Guild and FAB nights. GS would agree, positing that between a lack of proper scheduling of the rooms used for the event, and the refusal to hire out anti-crush barriers, there were measures that could have been taken to ensure that incidents such as a crowd crush do not occur. “We’ve also got 2 new duty managers too so I don’t know if the events have been their ideas or what – but maybe they don’t have the experience to deal with these properly.” However, as GS continued on to say, this lack of training and organisation extends to the guild security itself.

“SIA licensing isnt needed for someone to act as inhouse security, but without it they effectively don’t know what they’re doing.”

With the Guild utilising security that have not been SIA licensed, and therefore have not gone through the proper training for conflict management in social venues as clubs, questions can be raised over whether this  puts the student body at risk. As GS continues though, even the training that the Guild does give to its members of staff is lacking.

“So there’s a form that people fill out every year to say they’ve done the training, everyone was guided through it in a big hall this year. Every year you need refresher training and there’s a sheet that tests questions from the info pack. We were already doing the refresher training in debate hall and it was effectively someone reading off the answer sheet and people copying it onto their sheets”

As the Guild is reportedly walking their staff through the mandatory testing that is required for them to operate as staff, concerns have been expressed over the efficacy of this training. GS provided Redbrick with the ‘Guild Security Training’ documents and upon review these documents do not cover all safeguarding issues common at clubs. ‘Security training.pptx’ (a PowerPoint presentation for security training) has 165 words dedicated to describing what to do in a physical altercation, none of which provide advice on how to actually mitigate the events. Moreover, these training documents contain no information on how to handle attendees who have consumed too much alcohol or have been spiked, leaving security untrained for  handling such incidents.

In tandem GS has also provided this training sheet, with some of the questions being required to answer being pertinent to a student venue. Relevant examples are as follows: “What are the signs of drunkenness? What are the 4 main different types of spiking? If a large amount of drugs is found on a customer, what action will the Guild take?” 

GS believes that for the Guild to simply give their staff the answers to these questions, rather than actually testing them increases the risk to the average student. Questions can be raised about the ability of Guild security to alleviate situations or provide the necessary assistance where required as it cannot be certain whether they have been trained properly. GS told us that they believe that this laxness to student safety extends past the Guild’s training of its staff as well, and to cost cutting.

“What happens at the Guild if you have an SIA licence you pretty much become a senior member of security and you get to manage 2 or 3 non-security but the person with the badge would be responsible for anything that goes wrong. A good rule of thumb for at least festivals is 1 real SIA licensed per 100, but the Guild is cost saving – we used to hire in an external security company too which would bring SIA operatives and drug dogs but both of those have been cut. The drug dogs cost them £500 a night [or something like that] so they just cut it.”

The Guild has had a significant number of incidents of spiking in prior years, and these outside security and drug dogs were brought in to combat the issue. They worked, as in the 2022/23 academic year spikings dropped within the Guild. However, due to the apparent ‘cost saving’ that the Guild has engaged in, the security measures that were in place to protect students have been diminished. GS said, “So last year we had zero cases of spiking. I’ve personally seen 3 potential spikings this year, but obviously not all the cases come up to the chillout room ect.”

According to GS this ‘cost saving’  has come in response to Guild events, notably Fab’n’Fresh and Sports Nights seeing a decline in ticket sales. “It’s not just Fab’n’Fresh that’s doomed, basically the Guild aren’t selling any tickets and are desperate for attendees, pre-Covid we used to have Debating Hall open constantly, now usually we’ll have just Joe’s and Underground, some nights just Joe’s. On special events such as Halloween fab we have Joe’s, Underground, Beorma Bar and Debating Hall.” As the Guild supposedly fights to keep its events from being financially unviable they are reportedly taking measures that are reducing protections for  students.

“One of the ways the guild is trying to combat sport nights dying is by allowing sports societies to book out for pre-drinks. But the bar keeps on serving drinks to people who are drunk so they end up being in the sick room and having to be looked after. I mean sports societies promote dangerous drinking as part of their freshers events but now it’s happening in the Guild.” By inviting sports societies to drink in the Guild before a club night, and continuing to serve alcohol after they are drunk they are potentially liable for promoting unsafe drinking. As per British law, “It is illegal to knowingly sell alcohol, or attempt to sell alcohol, to a person who is drunk. It is also illegal to allow alcohol to be sold to someone who is drunk.” 

GS concluded “The Guild claims to put its student body first and I think that it should reconsider its priorities going forward because what happened Saturday [November 11th] was unacceptable.”

The Guild of Students’ Communications Department responded to our request for comment on 18 January 2024:

“At the Guild, Health & Safety is reviewed regularly, and not just following an incident. The Guild Health & Safety Committee reviews good practice from both the students’ union sector as well as that within wider hospitality venues. We also take informed advice from and consult with relevant experts, to ensure we meet our legal responsibilities.

In 2023, two Guild-wide Health & Safety reviews were completed. The recommendations and actions from these reviews are being monitored, actioned and completed.

Trustees also ensure the Guild is held accountable for its practice in many areas, including health & safety. The Guild has many existing procedures and measures in place to manage its events. This includes monitoring ticket sales, supervising attendance entry, capacity specifications and guest flow. The Guild also provides first aid training for relevant security staff roles.  

The Guild investigation report will outline any improvements that are required to prevent such incidents happening in the future, and we are committed to delivering these recommendations.”

You can read the Guild’s official statement here.

Dick and Dom declined to comment.