Students and alcohol are a frequent combination, and this is something which nightclub owners should be anticipating on busy student nights. Yet, poorly managed crowds in small, confined spaces too often prove to be an unwelcome addition to the nights of many. Tragically, in Durham last week, these factors culminated in a fatality. Twenty-year-old Olivia Burt, who was in her first year of studying Natural Sciences at Durham University, died from a serious head injury following a crowd surge, believed to have started when a large group pushed into the 100-strong queue outside the city’s Missoula nightclub. It goes without saying that Olivia’s death is a tragic loss of life, but one which certainly could, and should, have been avoided.
This is not the first time a student has died in Durham due to a lack of nighttime safety measures. Between 2013 and 2015, over a period of fourteen months, three students were found dead in separate incidents after drowning in the city’s River Wear whilst making their way home from nighttime spots in the city centre. When considering each of these deaths, a worrying pattern begins to emerge. In every incident, a bar or nightclub is, at some point, implicated in the tragic story. In one particular case, a student was reported to have fallen into the river after being ejected from the popular student club, Klute.
Bars and nightclubs have a duty of care to look after their customers. Back in October, a similar crowd surge occurred in Edinburgh, thankfully, without any fatalities. Cirque du Soul, hosted at The Liquid Rooms, is an incredibly popular student night and a large number were anticipated to attend the event thanks to high numbers of pre-sold tickets. Regardless of this, due to the size of the crowd outside the main door, entry was closed at 12:15am, resulting in many ticket-holders being turned away and leading to a frenzied surge towards a smaller side exit in an attempt to enter the venue. In the chaos, many students spoke of being pushed to the ground and unable to breathe, with one girl reportedly being taken to hospital after sustaining a head injury having fallen on the pavement. The parallels between this event and the most recent incident in Durham are startlingly clear. Events managers should make clubbers’ safety the priority, not ticket sales.
It is important to acknowledge that in both of these examples, those within the crowd did bear a certain amount of responsibility for the unravelling of events. If people stopped pushing, if we all stuck to the rules and didn’t skip the queue, then perhaps the masses would be easier to control. But to ask this of those on nights out is just not realistic, especially in a volatile crowd so often fuelled by large quantities of alcohol.
Nightclubs need to ensure that their venues are appropriately structured and that crowds are managed effectively, with enough members of trained staff ready to intervene if things start to get out of hand. It shouldn’t take the tragic death of a student to highlight the vulnerable position which young people are often placed in.