Short of having his daughter back, all Anthony Ikumelo wants is for no family to have to go through what his has over the past seven months.
On Thursday 15th December 2022, Anthony’s daughter Rebecca made her way to South London’s Brixton Academy for the third night of a sold-out run of shows by the stratospheric Afrobeats star Asake. The 33-year-old mother of two would be one of three people who didn’t make it home that night after a tragic crush at the venue. As well as Rebecca, who died two days after the concert, Gaby Hutchinson, 23, who was working as a security guard at the event, also died when her life support was switched off four days after the tragedy. Seven months on, another woman, aged 21, remains in hospital, still fighting to survive.
“It feels like greed is one of the reasons why my daughter died and why all the things that should have been in place for safety were not there,” Anthony told the Evening Standard last month. “This is why everyone should be working with us, from the government down, to find out what happened and to prevent it from happening again. We want those responsible prosecuted and eventually we want the government to make sure this will not happen to another family again.”
Anthony’s calls for justice join those from concert attendees and the Black Protest Legal Support, who are demanding a public inquiry into what happened. The Metropolitan Police has continued to make requests for witnesses to come forward as its own investigation continues. But campaigners have questioned the Met’s ability to take an independent view of a tragedy that its own officers have been accused of contributing to.
Asake will return to London next month, to headline the 20,000-capacity O2 Arena on 20th August. In a statement last December, he said: “I am devastated by the news that Rebecca Ikumelo who was in a critical condition since Thursday has sadly passed away. Let us please keep her family in our prayers. I have spoken to them and will continue to do so. I am overwhelmed with grief and could never have imagined anything like this happening.” Moments of silence have been offered at subsequent shows.
Meanwhile, the Academy’s battered doors remain closed, its licence suspended. Fans have signed petitions, and industry players have rallied more than 10,000 submissions to be considered by the council committee responsible for allowing the venue to reopen. The police and the venue’s management – at loggerheads, each bolstered by pricey lawyers – await their opportunity to make their case for the music hall’s future.
Justice rarely comes to those affected by crowd crush incidents.
Public apologies for the failures that led to 97 deaths from Hillsborough in 1989 have trickled out over a period of 34 years, the latest arriving from police chiefs in January of this year. In 2020, families of the 21 people killed and the more than 652 injured in a crush at Berlin’s Love Parade festival in 2010 had their hopes for justice suspended indefinitely as the long-running trial over the incident was put to bed without reaching a conclusion. The statute of limitations had outlasted any hope for closure. June this year brought news that criminal charges won’t be pursued over the crush that left 10 people dead from Travis Scott’s 2021 Astroworld Festival, though a composite glut of civil cases is still crawling its way through the courts.
These complex disasters lend themselves to an instinct for buck passing, and for those who might be held liable to slip away into a crowd of conflicting viewpoints. Questions go unanswered, responsibilities are obfuscated. The finger of blame invariably settles on the crowd: the one group unable to speak for itself.
December’s crush has been put down, variously, to: ticketless fans; security guards on the take; understaffing; police aggression; police inaction; dodgy resellers; racialised security policies (in which Afrobeats and rap concerts are given a higher risk rating than, for instance, indie bands or folk acts); the Academy building’s architecture; and failure to act on previous, similar incident at a concert at the same venue in February 2020.
By piecing together eye-witness accounts from attendees and others who were at the venue that night, scouring social media, and digging through official documents, it’s possible to stitch together a (still incomplete) timeline of what happened.
But as inconsistencies emerge, this process raises as many questions as it answers. How many people had shown up for the show? How many tickets were sold? How many were scanned? What did the Ticketmaster TM1 Entry System read as the attendance figures for the night? Why had the event been classified as having a heightened security risk? And were the protocols associated with that risk even followed on the night?
This is what we know so far.
19:00 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Sam*, concert-goer: “I drove there, and arrived on Stockwell Road about seven o’clock. Any time there’s a big artist playing, there’ll be people selling jerk chicken, suya, fried dumplings. So you can go out there, eat food, catch up with people.”
19:40 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Isioma, concert-goer: “I came down by tube and got to the show around 7:40 — I’d wanted to get there earlier in order to be at the front, but I had an office Christmas party prior so I was a bit delayed. I’d been to the O2 [Academy] a couple of months earlier for another Afrobeats concert, Adekunle Gold, so I expected the setup to be similar for Asake. But what I noticed was different… they’d blocked off the road [Astoria Walk] by the front entrance with barriers.
“I felt very confused. I kept looking to find the way to get in, but it was clear that there was no way in. So I asked one of the security guards. He said we had to walk down Stockwell Road and turn right at the corner of the block, and there was a queue there [on Stockwell Park Walk]. That’s where the mess started.”
19:45 – behind the venue, Stockwell Park Walk
Isioma: “I’d never got into Brixton Academy from the back way before, and I’ve been going there for years. Everybody was being sent there. There wasn’t any cordoning, any signposting. I kept walking until I saw a queue on the pavement. We had the wall of the O2 on the right of us and then cars lined up on the left, that sort of hemmed us in. By this point I was starting to get anxious.
“Everyone formed a queue there, we were all in line. I could see people walking along the road to join at the front. We all presumed they had VIP tickets. No one was rowdy or anything, we all had our tickets, we were just standing waiting.
“It was winter, so it was cold. No one was expecting to be standing in line for that long. I was dressed fairly warmly, but a lot of the other girls were not.”
19:55 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Abi, concert-goer: “I arrived by train, so walked up from Brixton station to the Academy and met my sister outside around eight o’clock. There was people outside the Academy, but the security were saying if we were there for Asake then we should [go] round to the back. That was a bit confusing.”
Temi, concert-goer: “I got there about eight and managed to get into the venue relatively quickly.”
20:00 – behind the venue, Stockwell Park Walk
Isioma: “The queue wasn’t moving much. Moving a little, but very slowly. We were still on the sidewalk on the road behind the Academy. I remember thinking: ‘Why have we had to do this, why haven’t they just let us in the front?’”
20:10 – beside the venue, Astoria Walk
Abi: “Round the back, they checked our tickets on our phones. I don’t remember anyone scanning anything, but I know that they checked it. We walked up the road [Astoria Walk] and had to go through security, where they checked our bags and patted us down. And then we were in. The whole process didn’t take long at all. Probably about 10 minutes.
“We had tickets for the standing area, so we went in through the main doors and into the hall. I was looking for a cloakroom but then decided to just wrap my coat around me. We went to the toilet, then went to the bar, and from there went straight into the area where everyone was standing and waiting for Asake to come on.
“It was pretty much packed by this point, and I was thinking: ‘Where are all those people that were outside going to come to?’ I couldn’t see the space there for the amount of people that were outside. I remember thinking: ‘Maybe they have seated tickets [for the Academy’s upper level].’
“They had people on stage performing, hyping us up. The music was vibes, the crowd was so good, everyone was just having a good time.”
20:20 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Sam: “More and more people are coming in [to the crowd outside the venue]. More people, more people, more people. It’s getting more and more rammed. The security said they’ve reached capacity inside, but out here it is packed. I’ve never seen it like this. People are getting more frustrated when they realise that security is not budging.”
20:22 – behind the venue, Stockwell Park Walk
Isioma: “We were all packed into the sidewalk [on Stockwell Park Walk], and there wasn’t really anyone restricting how many people were coming into the queue, so we were like six man deep. It was quite tightly packed and there wasn’t really any way to get out: there was the cars parked on the left, and then the wall on the right.
“Asake was meant to start around [nine], so people were starting to get anxious about what was going on. The line had moved a little, and someone said: ‘They’re asking people to have their tickets ready, you’ve got to make sure you’ve got your ticket on your phone.’ This was like Chinese whispers coming from the top of the line back down.
“I could see a little bit of what was going on up front, there was a barricade and only two security there and hundreds of people waving their phones in their faces. I was thinking: ‘How are just two people going to process those tickets? Why didn’t they do this up-front?’
“People started getting aggy, getting rowdy, and everyone was saying: ‘No, no, no, calm down.’ Somebody pushed, and everyone started pushing. I was trying to push back to stand upright, but I couldn’t stay upright because of all the bodies pushing me from behind and from the side, against the wall. So I just flowed with the crowd because that was the only way to go. Otherwise I would have gone under.”
20:30 – beside the venue, Astoria Walk
Isioma: “We flowed into the side street [Astoria Walk] and that’s when I realised why they’d brought us to the back: they had security dogs and gun checks. [That was] the first time I’ve seen that at Brixton Academy. Everything felt confusing. I’d been to another Afrobeats concert there, but the setup was so different.
“I felt very angry when I saw [the additional security measures] because I felt racialised. I thought: ‘The reason why we’ve been taken into a back alley that isn’t really set up for queuing, and there isn’t enough staff, is because these kinds of security checks are what’s been prioritised, rather than processing tickets and letting people into the building.’
“I felt very angry, and I remember shouting at one of the security guards that you guys have endangered our lives. I just felt furious.”
20:42 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Sam: “Usually security will be like: ‘Alright, we reached capacity we’re not letting nobody in.’ But that’s their way of just having a bit of crowd control and then they might say [something like]: ‘Two people can come in, maybe three people can come in.’ But at this point they was not budging.
“It’s almost nine o’clock, and people know that this is when the main act is on. Because it was so packed, everyone decided to just wait, hoping for a dream that the security might just say: ‘You know what, some people can get in.’ But they were stuck to their word.”
20:45 – beside the venue, Astoria Walk
Isioma: “We flowed up to the front entrance of Brixton Academy. There was a van parked in the middle of the side street. People were running to get into a line at the front of the steps at the Academy, because they still thought they were going to get in. There was some barricading that looked like it could be a line to get in. Once I got there, the security guards just hemmed everybody in. You couldn’t get out without jumping over a barrier. People who decided to get out had to be lifted out by the people on the other side of the barricade.
“So you had people standing outside the barricades, some people inside the barricades, people [who] had gone up to the top of the stairs trying to get in. I think everyone just thought it was a weird delay tactic security were doing, but that if you got to the front entrance you could get your ticket scanned.”
21:00 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Gerald Gouriet KC, representing the Met Police at Lambeth Council licensing sub-committee meeting on 16th January: “I understand by 9:00pm a large crowd of about 1,000 people had formed outside the entrance to the premises, to all intents giving the appearance of entering the building.”
Sam: “When it got to nine o’clock, that’s when feathers started to shake, because people were like: ‘Nah, now you’ve got us out here, we’ve paid our ticket, and the act is going to come on.’ So people are more angry at the fact that the act is about to come on, and we’re outside. That’s when everything begun.”
21:00 – beside the venue, Astoria Walk
Isioma: “We know the concert [was due to] have started, so why aren’t we being let in? I just thought to myself, if I got up to the top, it was so crowded that I would get squashed. So I stayed on the edges, at the bottom of the stairs, with a metal barrier behind me. I remember feeling really scared that if the crowd [outside] surges downstairs, that’s my back gone. They hemmed everyone in. It was tight. It was awful. And then they locked the doors, so no one was getting in.”
21:04 – police called
PC Jinelle Caldinez, in a statement to the licensing sub-committee: “At 21:04, police were called to the premises in response to reports of serious disorder presenting a clear threat to public safety.”
21:16 – police arrive, Stockwell Road
PC Jinelle Caldinez: “Upon arrival at the venue, it was apparent to officers that security staff had completely lost control of the situation with regards to crowd control. Crowds had forcibly breached the doors of the venue and were seen in large numbers to be forcing their way into the event.”
21:30 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Sam: “People started to push the door, and when I saw the doors cracking is when I whipped out my phone. The police are here, security are here, and people are pushing down the door.
“The police was like: ‘You need to go. They’ve reached capacity and you guys need to go.’ People didn’t care, they were still rushing the door. Because they had tickets! Everyone out there had tickets, that’s why there was frustration and why they rushed the door.
“Once everyone had rushed at it, you could see there was a little [opening]. And once that was there, everyone was thinking: ‘I need to get through that little crack.’ While everybody was going through, the door just burst open and everyone rushed in. It took no more than five minutes.”
“What the police done, as soon as they saw the door cracking, they literally started to whip people off. They had their truncheons out, they were trying to push people away from the doors. But by then, there was too much people there. I think the only effect it had was it got people more angry.”
21:35 – police called again
David Watson, Metropolitan Police spokesman: “At 21:35, police were called to the premises in relation to reports of large numbers of people attempting to forcibly gain entry to the venue. Officers witnessed scenes of large scale disorder while present at the venue. Crowds forcibly breached the doors of the venue and were then forcing their way into the event. It was apparent that security on duty at the venue had lost control of the situation with regards crowd control.”
21:42 – beside the venue, Astoria Walk
Isioma: “It was all aggy. People were trying to push against the doors, saying: ‘Let us in.’ I was really upset and stressed, I didn’t know what to do.
“One security guard popped up and was trying to advise everyone to go home, but… it was easier said than done to just leave. People were getting really irate. Like, why are the doors closed? We have tickets, we’ve been queuing for hours. Why can’t we get in?
“The security guard said that if the concert has started, they’ll probably have pulled him offstage by now. He advised that we should take pictures [to facilitate claiming a refund] and go home. I was surprised to hear that people were already inside and the concert had started, because we had been standing in line for hours.”
Joseph, concert-goer, quoted in the Daily Telegraph: “I knew I hadn’t missed Asake’s performance yet, as the event was meant to finish at 11pm. That’s why I decided to stay. There was also no way I could get out of the crowd peacefully. We were all so squashed. I could barely move my hands.”
21:44 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Isioma: “The security guard pushed people aside so I was able to sort of sneak my way out. That’s when I saw that there was the barrier that kept us hemmed in, but it was also just the bodies of people that were out there. When [the security guard] got me through, that’s when I saw two police guys standing there and a police van. They weren’t really doing anything.
“I left right before it all kicked off. It was all a bit of a mess. The crowd was beginning to get a bit aggressive, a bit anxious, a bit agitated because we were all hemmed in. My fear was that [Brixton] tube station was going to get locked off, so I was rushing to get there. I got to the station and called a friend. I was very upset.”
22:00 – inside the venue, Asake comes onstage
Abi: “When he came on, the standing [area] was packed.”
Temi: “Everyone was going wild when Asake came on stage.”
Abi: “It was elbow to elbow, shoulder to shoulder. When he performed his first song, I could feel that it was getting more packed. But I thought it could just be people coming from the bar area or from the bathrooms, or chilling with friends, or the cloakroom. At that point I felt safe.
22:04 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Joseph: “Someone had smashed one of the glass doors on the far left, which was followed by another attempt to barge in. This is when things began to escalate. I’m not sure how exactly the doors opened, but they were – and everyone started running [inside]. I remember, shouting, telling the girls around me not to fall. But even if you don’t push, you are being pushed. It’s like a strong wave or current behind you, and you can’t fight or withstand it.”
Sam: “Hundreds got in from the outside. Once they saw a little entrance, I was just seeing hundreds of people running in. I stayed outside.”
22:06 – ambulances are called
London Ambulance Service spokesperson: “The London Ambulance Service was asked to attend at 22:06. Staff treated 10 people at the scene, eight of whom were then taken to hospital.”
22:09 – inside the auditorium
Asake, onstage: “They said outside is fucked up already. So, we need to end the show. I don’t know why. It’s not me.”
22:12 – inside the auditorium
Abi: “After three songs, the promoters came on stage.”
Concert promoter, onstage: “The reason we have to stop the show is because they have breached the doors. You’ve got 3,000 people have broken the doors outside, and because of security the police have asked us to close the show. We apologise to you. This is nothing to do with us.”
Abi: “Everyone was just shocked. Like, what? What do you mean you have to end the concert? He’s just got on! We’ve all been waiting for so long. But they, like, really apologised. I don’t think they said anything about [refunding] tickets at this stage, but [they said] that we were all going to have to vacate the premises now. Basically: get out now.”
Temi: “Then we started to hear loud noises [from the foyer], including banging and shouting. We decided to leave before the chaos got any worse.”
Mark, concert-goer, quoted in the Daily Telegraph: “I wasn’t afraid at that point. But when I opened the door which led to the main foyer, I saw all the commotion and the fights breaking out. I was backed up against a wall for about five minutes trying to figure out what to do. The moment I saw a gap, I grabbed my cousin and friends by the arm and we ran towards the foyer. It was traumatic. Fear kicked in. I could already hear all the chaos happening outside. We could see people doing CPR on a young woman.”
22:28 – in the foyer
Abi: “Everyone was trying to get out through the same entrance that we came in, and then all of a sudden there was this huge rush of people coming back in [from outside], and people were getting trampled on. It was like a huge tornado of people. People were getting crushed, stumbled on, people fell over.
“Me and my sister managed to huddle into the side to try and get out, to try and bypass all these people coming in. As we were getting out, there was girls on the floor, we could see the ambulance staff, or staff from the Academy, doing CPR on these girls at the front of the foyer. Even the little snippet I saw, I was like: I am not staying here any longer. It was really scary. It’s the last thing you expect, to come to a concert and lose your life. I was just praying that they were OK.”
Temi: “In the foyer you could see the huge crowds of people outside. They were packed together like sardines. They had to block off the venue.”
Abi: “Being in the concert, we were shielded away from the chaos. When we were exiting, it was a completely different experience.
“My priority was just to get me and my sister out. We’d been standing towards the back [of the venue], so we were able to easily get out. People that were more towards the front, that would have been a nightmare for them to get out. People were fighting to get out.
“When we were going out of the foyer, and got close to the front doors, there was this massive rush of people coming back into the foyer. It was like something out of a movie. I’d never experienced anything like it in my life.”
22:30 – outside the venue, Stockwell Road
Abi: “We managed to get out quite quick. There were so many ambulances. We were so shaken. On my way home, I couldn’t call my sister because she was driving, but I was so worried about her… that she’d get stuck there because they’d closed so many roads.”
Sam: “Where my car was parked, the police blocked it off, so I didn’t leave until about two o’clock in the morning. We had to just wait there. I’m just seeing ambulances, bodies on the floor, people with foil wraps around them. That’s when I knew the outcome wasn’t going to be nice.”
*Some names have been changed
Isioma just wants to regain the confidence and sense of joy she felt before 15th December, when criss-crossing London to dance and sing and see live music was the backbone of her social life.
“I think I’ve taken it more to heart than some people have. I feel more anxious now than I normally do about entering into places and exiting out,” she says. “But hopefully I will go to something again.” She feels lucky to have left Brixton with her life that evening, but nonetheless mourns the loss of a part of herself.
Others mourn a prominent, historic venue and social hub, its future left hanging interminably in the balance.
But no loss will sit as heavily as the one felt by the parents, children, friends, partners and siblings of those who went out that night and never came home. These people have been left without a loved one. And, so far, without answers.
The Metropolitan Police are still appealing for evidence and witnesses, and a criminal investigation is underway. Separate calls for a public enquiry are ongoing. Meanwhile, Brixton Academy remains closed. Lambeth Council’s next licensing sub-committee meeting will be held in September.