Witnesses to the deadly crush outside the O2 Academy Brixton last Thursday have insisted many fans in the crowd outside had tickets, rejecting reports of a ticketless mob storming the venue.
After the death of 33-year-old Rebecca Ikumelo was announced on Saturday, fans criticised the security and organisation at the event.
One concertgoer claimed fans outside were “kettled” into a confined space by security guards. “They endangered our lives, they endangered my life. No one’s going to kettle me in,” said Isioma Daniel, 41.
The gig, the third of three by the Nigerian artist Asake at the south London venue, was stopped after approximately 10 minutes.
A man apparently from the singer’s crew announced on stage: “We have stopped the show because they breached the door. You have got 3,000 people [who] have broken the door outside and because of security, police have asked us to close the show. We apologise to you. This is nothing to do with us.”
After the news emerged of the death of Ikumelo, a mother of two, Asake said he was “devastated” and “overwhelmed with grief”. He said: “My sincerest condolences to her loved ones at this time. Let us please keep her family in our prayers. I have spoken to them and will continue to do so.”
The Metropolitan police have launched an investigation. Two other women, aged 21 and 23, are in hospital in a critical condition.
Rebecca Ikumelo, 33, died in hospital after the crush in Brixton. Photograph: PA
Police were called to the event at about 9.35pm after reports that a large number of people were trying to force entry. The Met said officers found several people with “injuries believed to have been caused by crushing”.
Asake fans told the Guardian that upon arriving at the event they were directed around the back of the venue and then into a side alley, with no one checking their tickets as they joined the crowd.
“To the right of me was the wall of the building and to the left was a bank of cars, parked. So we are hemmed in. There was no cordoning, no barricades, no staff at all except for two men at the top of the queue,” said Daniel.
At about 8.30pm, she said, “we had our tickets ready, and then suddenly the crowd just surged. I think whatever was happening up the front, I couldn’t see clearly, someone must have been frustrated and started pushing. I started to get suffocated because everyone started moving and pushing and we were already hemmed in.”
She added that it was extremely cold on Thursday night, with the temperature well below zero, suggesting ticketless fans were unlikely to have queued for such a long time in freezing conditions.
Some time later, as the crowd tried to push towards the front steps of the venue, she said, “the security moved the barricades there to hem us in again so there was no exit out on to the streets without jumping over a barricade”.
Comparing the circumstances to the controversial tactic of “kettling” sometimes used by the police to control crowds, she said: “I was hemmed in, I didn’t know where to go. If I tried to get deeper into the surge I could get squashed there, but if I stay on the edge, my back was against a metal barrier, and I was scared that if the crowds moved backwards, my back would be broken against it.”
Daniel said a security guard eventually helped her and several other women to leave the crowd, telling them the concert would be halted and they would be safer to leave.
Another fan, who managed to gain entry to the gig and wished to remain anonymous, criticised the lack of security outside the venue.
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“It was the most poorly organised thing I’ve seen: there were a bunch of people queued up, some people pushing to the front, and there was literally one security guard as far as I could see,” she said.
Commenting on reports of ticketless fans trying to force their way in, she said: “I just think the wrong message was being sent initially – that the people outside were hooligans. The majority of the people out there had tickets. A couple of my friends were out there and didn’t make it in and I know for a fact they had tickets.”
Asake gig in Brixton abandoned after suspected crowd crush – video report
Ife Thompson, a lawyer at Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS), set up to independently monitor the actions of police during the Black Lives Matter protests, said she had spoken to people who had tickets but were locked out of the event.
“The doors were closed, so effectively people were standing in a line for no reason: they weren’t dispersed and told to go home,” she said. BPLS is gathering testimony about the event to create a community timeline.
“We are seeing with the Asake concert a desire to pin blame on the people who were outside, many of which were actual victims themselves, instead of saying ‘how could we have better crowd management?’, ‘how did we get to a place where there was a lack of crowd control that led to the loss of life for Rebecca Ikumelo and many others being injured?’,” Thompson said.
The local MP Florence Eshalomi called for a full investigation into what happened, saying it was clear that “ticketing and security procedures have not performed as they should have”.
Cokobar, one of the ticketsellers involved in promoting the event, said it had been allocated 685 tickets and had sold only that number, referring any further queries to the venue. Attenders have been promised a refund.
A spokesperson for the venue said: “O2 Academy Brixton is fully supporting the ongoing police investigation. All at O2 Academy Brixton and Academy Music Group are deeply saddened by the news of the tragic death of Rebecca Ikumelo. We send our heartfelt condolences to Rebecca’s family and friends, and our thoughts are with everyone affected by this devastating news at this extremely difficult time.”
The Met police gold commander Ade Adelekan described the incident as “extremely distressing” and urged any witnesses who were yet to speak to police to get in contact.