Two people have died and a third remains in critical condition after a stampede at a South London concert venue last week.
One victim, a 23-year-old security guard named Gaby Hutchinson, suffered critical injuries while on duty in the foyer of the O2 Academy Brixton at last Thursday night’s performance by the Nigerian singer Asake.
The other, mother-of-two Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, died on Saturday after being caught in a crush shortly after 10pm, when a large crowd broke down the locked front door of the building and swarmed into the sold-out gig.
Everyone from the police to the venue owners to ticketless fans, rapacious touts and the security firm maintaining that was supposed to have been ordered has been blamed for the tragedy, which is already the subject of several official investigations.
Victim: Mother-of-two Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, died at the O2 Brixton after being caught in a crush shortly after 10pm on Saturday
So how did excitement over the last night of this popular Afrobeats musician’s first UK tour turn into tragedy? While many details remain unclear, distressing videos and social media reports, along with accounts shared by several eyewitnesses, allow us to piece together the following narrative…
For months it has been clear that Asake’s UK tour is a seriously hot ticket. All three gigs, in Manchester, Birmingham and London, sold out within hours of the online box office opening in late September, so promoters have decided to extend his stay with two extra shows in Brixton.
Asake is a breakout star in the Afrobeats genre of upbeat West African pop music. His debut album, Mr Money With The Vibe, achieved huge success in the US and UK this summer, reaching No. 22 in the British charts.
Asake, who performs in two of his country’s most popular languages, Yoruba and English-based Pidgin, has recently made a name for his distinctive live shows, in which he is supported by a large coterie of instrumentalists. A gig in the US made headlines after he arrived on stage with a live goat, while at his recent Birmingham show he threw banknotes at fans in the front row.
By the eve of Thursday’s event, tickets to see the much-hyped 27-year-old, whose real name is Ahmed Ololade, are changing hands for more than double their face value of £55 to £65 via online ticket exchanges.
23-year-old security guard Gaby Hutchinson, suffered critical injuries while on duty in the foyer of the O2 Academy Brixton at last Thursday night’s performance by the Nigerian singer Asake
The O2 Academy Brixton is a live music venue that was converted from a cinema in the early 1980s and has played host to everyone from Madonna and Bob Dylan to the Sex Pistols, Iron Maiden and The Prodigy.
Up to 4,921 concert-goers are permitted inside. Roughly a third are accommodated on seats in the upstairs circle, while the rest stand on the ground floor.
Fans attending Asake’s gig are told to arrive any time from 7pm, with DJs and other supporting acts providing entertainment from 7.15 and the headliner due to take the stage around 9.30pm. Large numbers of fans begin to arrive at the front door, a stone’s throw from Brixton railway station, from about 8pm.
For reasons that will doubtless be investigated, Asake’s management team appears to have been concerned about the number of people planning to show up at the venue. Before his first London gig, on Sunday, December 11, the singer used Twitter to warn fans: ‘Please do not come to the Brixton Academy tonight if you do not have a valid ticket.’
Not everyone paid attention, though. Shanice Choi, who was at Thursday’s concert, told the MyLondon news website that she believes many ticketless fans decided to turn up after hearing rumors that the doors wouldn’t be properly guarded.
‘I had a friend who had a ticket for the Sunday [Asake show] and she basically said that when she went, her ticket wasn’t checked by security. So I think word started spreading around to people,’ she said. Some thought, “Let me take a chance to go on Thursday without a ticket because I know security won’t check.” ‘
The crush at 02 Brixton Academy occurred shortly after 10pm, when a large crowd broke down the locked front door of the building and swarmed into the sold-out gig.
Compounding the problem are unofficial ticket sales, with touts apparently either selling forgeries or persuading multiple people to purchase printouts of the same QR code.
As a result, far more fans seem to turn up than Brixton Academy can safely accommodate — and plenty of them gain entry.
One concert-goer, Pearl Adewale, told the Daily Mirror she even saw a member of the door staff turn away a customer who had tried to gain entry using a mobile phone screenshot of an email, rather than the actual ticket.
‘The [venue staffer] asked him: “Did you buy this with a reseller?” He was like, “Yes, I did.” She was like, “I need a QR code.” I felt like a lot of people are getting scammed.’
Another fan, Kamaru Ogunkoya, told The Voice newspaper: ‘The security or stewards, the people that were actually processing the tickets, weren’t thorough with giving access to people who had tickets. So they were just basically saying that if you’ve got a ticket, show us.
You’d show them the ticket and you just basically went through. They weren’t scanning anything.’
IT IS minus 3c in London, yet by 8pm shivering concert-goers are being forced to join a long queue which stretches hundreds of yards from the front door of the venue down an alleyway called Astoria Walk, then continues down the A203 towards Stockwell. Reaching the front takes more than an hour, and many in the still-growing crowd begin to voice frustration at the perceived lack of information about what is causing the hold-up.
Some complain to security staff, who are employed by a firm called AP Security Limited.
It is a relatively large company, founded in the 1980s, which until Covid turned over £14.6 million a year and works with both the Forestry Commission and Festival Republic, a promotion firm that runs the Latitude, Wireless and Download festivals.
The AP has not responded to the Mail about last Thursday’s events. A member of staff told the BBC that it was ‘working with our lawyers, the operators of the premises and the authorities to provide all the information needed’.
Until last week, the company’s only brush with controversy had been in 2012, when it was the subject of an investigation by our sister publication The Mail on Sunday.
The newspaper alleged that the AP had breached an agreement with the organizers of the London Olympics by sub-contracting the recruitment of security staff for the Games to a second firm, which delivered inadequate training. Back then, the company did not comment either.
Everyone from the police to the venue owners to ticketless fans, rapacious touts and the security firm maintaining that was supposed to have been order has been blamed for the tragedy.
Signs of danger
IT IS 8.45pm and the venue is largely filled with fans. However, a huge crowd remains outside. At 8.54pm, Astoria Walk is packed with hundreds of young men and women, squeezed shoulder to shoulder. Outside the front door, another large crowd has built up.
As Asake’s scheduled stage time approaches, the mood turns increasingly fractious among those yet to access the venue. Many complain they have been waiting for 90 minutes, despite holding valid tickets that were bought directly from the organizers.
‘People are trying to force their way to Asake tonight,’ says one of hundreds of posts that begin to appear on TikTok and Twitter.
‘Why are people behaving like animals?’ asks a second.
‘This Asake queue is chaos,’ observes another fan, Suavito Calderone, at 9.06pm.
By this time, police have been called. They arrive at 9.11pm.
At some point in the next half-hour, a decision is made to lock the five main front doors to the building, seemingly to prevent the auditorium from becoming dangerously overcrowded. News of this breaks on social media at 9.35pm.
Meanwhile, outside the building there is chaos, with swelling numbers surrounding the semicircular entrance to the Academy, and the adjacent alleyways entirely filled by revellers.
Support acts can be heard playing inside, which doesn’t help the mutinous mood of the crowd pressed against the entrance doors.
The foyer appears to be largely empty and most security staff seem to have retreated behind a second set of doors leading to the main auditorium. Inside, fans start to realize all is not well.
By 10pm, half an hour after his scheduled start time, Asake has still not appeared.
The star of the show eventually takes the stage between 10pm and 10.05pm. With news of his arrival, things outside turn seriously nasty and someone calls the London Ambulance Service.
A group of men push open the front doors at 10.06pm and begin running into the narrow foyer, followed by the rest of the crowd, creating a dangerous bottleneck.
A mob breaks through doors to the main auditorium, while about a dozen security guards try to maintain order. In the tumult, several people seem to have tripped and fallen on top of each other, with a large pile of bodies filling the middle doorways. Other members of the crowd seem to be throwing punches.
One woman told the Evening Standard newspaper she had fallen as people rushed in and was ‘kicked around like a football’.
‘I was going into the concert and I was crushed from behind. The crowd was insane,’ she said.
‘I fell down, they were stepping on my head. I couldn’t breathe. There was a woman next to me in a very bad way as well. A security guard was also injured and a pregnant woman outside was being resuscitated.’
Asake, who has performed just two songs, walks onstage at about 10.11pm and tells the crowd their evening is coming to an end. ‘Three thousand people have broken the door outside,’ he tells fans, adding: ‘Because of security, police have asked us to close the show. We apologise to you, this is nothing to do with us or the promoter. . . listen to what I am saying.’
The singer then passes his microphone to an unidentified man, thought to be either a promoter or one of the Brixton Academy managers. He promises fans they will be given refunds and urges them to ‘leave the same way you came in’.
This may have caused further chaos, as large numbers of revellers try to leave through the same foyer entrance through which crowds are still pouring.
A fight breaks out as groups of men barge into each other. An Alsatian appears to be on the loose inside, with men in orange hi-viz jackets trying to apprehend it. Who the dog belongs to is unclear: the police have denied any of their canine units were present.
A thin line of police, armed with batons, eventually manage to prevent more people surging into the Brixton Academy.
However, in the unfolding chaos, clashes develop between fans and the police. One officer allegedly throws a woman down the entrance steps after an altercation in her foyer, in the circumstances that are now the subject of an official review.
A woman outside walks up to a male officer and punches him in the face. There is one arrest.
By 10.30pm, the streets outside are filled with ambulances and at least eight people are on their way to the hospital.