Festival boss defends admitting unaccompanied 16-year-olds despite boy’s death

The founder and organiser of the Leeds Festival has instructed an inquest he doesn’t imagine unaccompanied 16 and 17-year-olds must be banned from the occasion despite the death of a youngster who took ecstasy ultimately yr’s occasion.

Melvin Benn needed to compose himself as he grew to become emotional shortly after he started giving his proof on Wednesday on the inquest into the death of 16-year-old David Celino.

He instructed David’s mother and father, who have been sitting only a few ft in entrance of him at Wakefield Coroner’s Courtroom, of his “real sorrow” at their son’s death.

Mr Benn, who’s managing director of Festival Republic, grew to become visibly upset and needed to take a couple of moments to compose himself earlier than he revealed that he had misplaced a nephew to medicine.

He instructed the court docket that David’s death had “taken an emotional toll on myself and all of my workers, no query about that”.

The inquest has heard that David had gone to the pageant, which attracts greater than 90,000 folks each summer season to Bramham Park, close to Leeds, with 5 associates from their houses in Worsley, Higher Manchester, in August final yr.

He grew to become in poor health after taking ecstasy, which his group purchased from a supplier within the Tenting Plus space of the pageant, and died after being taken to hospital in Leeds.

Earlier this week, David’s father, Gianpiero Celino, instructed the inquest of his issues that unaccompanied children are left prey to drug sellers who function like “the kid catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang” resulting from lax safety.

Mr Benn instructed the listening to on Wednesday: “It’ll be no shock to know that I don’t imagine that there must be a bar on 16- or 17-year-olds.”

He agreed there isn’t a such prohibition at any main pageant within the UK, together with Glastonbury, and the coroner mentioned with him among the sensible difficulties of such a transfer.

He mentioned he believes 16-year-olds ought to have the ability to purchase alcohol however the present legislation prohibiting alcohol gross sales for under-18s is rigidly utilized on the pageant.

Mr Benn was requested by senior coroner Kevin McLoughlin about Mr Celino’s perception that “predatory” drug sellers focusing on youngsters is a “foreseeable danger”.

He replied: “One way or the other Mr Celino’s proof actually pulled it into focus. It struck house.”

Mr Benn, who additionally organises the Studying Festival and various others across the nation, mentioned: “They (youngsters) do have naivety. They do have a false sense of safety. And that was put into focus by Mr Celino.

“I’ve by no means had that focus. It’s by no means been fairly as clear because it was yesterday.”

Mr Benn mentioned this yr’s pageant, which begins subsequent week, could have a way more seen safety and assist presence.

The inquest has heard that it’s estimated round 20% of pageant attendees are 16 and 17-year-olds and Mr Benn mentioned he was placing extra subtle methods in place this yr to offer an correct image of this knowledge, utilizing ID and wristbands.

He mentioned he believed the availability of AIR (Help, Info and Response) Hubs on the pageant, staffed by volunteers fairly than safety workers, was one of the best ways to offer help to children.

Mr Benn mentioned these had been launched as a direct response to David’s death and all festival-goers must be inside 200m of a hub.

However Mr Benn instructed the inquest: “I don’t suppose medicine are any extra freely out there at festivals than they’re in society usually.”

Underneath questioning from Mr and Mrs Celino’s barrister, Sarah Barlow, Mr Benn mentioned he didn’t see what else he can do ensure that attendees are conscious of the dangers round medicine on the pageant, however he mentioned he would “welcome” speaking to the household about their ideas on the matter.

“I’m at all times open to concepts,” he instructed the listening to. “I’m unsure what extra I might be doing.”

Requested by Festival Republic’s barrister Paul Greaney KC, Mr Benn mentioned it was unimaginable to cease medicine getting onto the pageant web site.

He mentioned searches have been focused as a result of it was virtually unimaginable to correctly search everybody’s luggage, tents and sleeping luggage for medicine.

Mr Benn was requested about whether or not he had thought of introducing so-called front-of-house testing, so drug-users can discover out what’s within the substances they’ve purchased.

He mentioned that the Dwelling Secretary has prohibited this from happening at festivals, including that he believed it may give folks the unsuitable concept that their medicine are secure to take.

The coroner allowed a break in proceedings on Wednesday afternoon to permit Mr Benn to fulfill with David’s mother and father earlier than he needed to depart Wakefield.

Detective Chief Inspector Philip Jackson instructed the court docket he additionally investigated the death of 17-year-old Anya Buckley, from Oldham, who died after a drug overdose at Leeds Festival in 2019.

He mentioned the circumstances have been totally different to David’s death and that investigation led to the dismantling of an organised crime group in Oldham.

Mr Jackson agreed that an “alternative was missed” when officers didn’t instantly seek for the supplier who provided David and his associates however he mentioned officers’ precedence on the evening was the youngsters’ welfare.

The inquest heard that Festival Republic had drafted in retired West Yorkshire Detective Chief Superintendent Nick Wallen – who led the investigations into the murders of MP Jo Cox and college trainer Ann Maguire – to attract up its revised safety plan for the pageant.

Related Articles

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button