Was this the real reason Fabric was shut down? 'Operation Lenor' and a cash-strapped council and police
The Independent gets new information via Freedom of Information and found that fabric's closing is part of a larger redevelopment plan by an underfunded Islington Council.This article originally appeared on The Independent
On a hot, drab night on Tuesday 7 September, London’s iconic Fabric nightclub was permanently closed. The trigger for Fabric’s suspension and subsequent closure was allegedly the deaths of two individuals as a result of drug taking on the premises on 25 June and 6 August.
However, documents obtained by The Independent via a Freedom of Information request show that Fabric’s closure was a long pre-planned event, orchestrated by a cash-strapped council, using the police as pawns.
Islington Council’s official statement regarding the closure lists 11 bullet points (below) justifying the decision. Two of these directly relate to the deaths of the two individuals. A further eight relate to an undercover police operation that took place in the venue in July 2016.
The undercover police operation found no hard evidence of drug taking inside the venue, relying instead on vague observations. These observations found their way into the council decision, including that individuals were “manifesting symptoms showing that they were (on drugs). This included sweating, glazed red eyes and staring into space,” and also that “people in the smoking area enquiring about the purchase of drugs...I believe within earshot of the security officer”.
(Islington Council Statement)
In fact, the original undercover police report itself also reported that “the general atmosphere of the club was friendly and non-threatening” and that “there was a diverse demographic in regards to race, [with people speaking] French, Italian and Chinese”. These findings did not make it into the Islington statement.
Undercover police in nightclubs is nothing new, but targeting the venue itself, as opposed to dealers, is. The undercover police report that was used as evidence for Islington Council’s decision was made all the more unusual by the fact it was named 'Operation Lenor', presumably after the supermarket fabric softener.
So why did the police feel the need to create such a perfunctory report?
The first bullet point of the Islington council decision contains not the recent drugs deaths, but instead mentions the 2014 review of Fabric’s licence. This is significant.
The 2014 review took place following four drug deaths over three and a half years from individuals visiting the premises (of which only one was from drugs supplied inside the venue). The review ruled that sniffer dogs were to be placed outside the venue on rotating shifts for at least 50% of the night:
That, in itself, is an odd move. Even airports and military bases don’t have dogs at the scanners for half of every working day. Moreover, the council and police dictated these dogs were to be from a private security firm, paid for by Fabric, but approved by the police. This was despite Paddy Whur, the club’s solicitor during the 2014 review, pointing out: “The vast majority of private sector dog providers are not trained to the level that police dogs are. So it’s been difficult finding one to meet the criteria police want.”
Perhaps then, the dogs were meant to be more of a discouragement to would-be drug users than an actual drug-busting mechanism. At any rate, the plan backfired. On 11 December 2015, the terms of Fabric’s operation - notably the use of sniffer dogs - were reversed. The report notes: “The Judge went further and found that the use of a drugs dog could undermine the licensing objectives in a number of unintended ways, including causing drugs to remain in circulation that would otherwise have been confiscated under Fabric’s thorough search procedures.”
Documents obtained by The Independent via an FOI request relating to the recent suspension of Fabric prior to its review revealed further clarity on the sniffer dog reversal. Over the course of 918 pages of written letters requesting the club stay open, some 45 pages concern the use of sniffer dogs, noting their inefficiency at detecting drugs, but also frequent suggestions that "sniffer dogs force scared people into consuming all of their drugs before they enter the venue." The decision was overturned. Why then did the police feel the need to create “Operation Lenor”, despite the fact that that same police force had recently referred other London venues’ management to Fabric as a bastion of good practice?