Festival Theft Crackdown

The U.K.’s new Association of Independent Festivals is forming a security task force to stop organised gangs that steal from camping tents at festivals.

AIF co-founder and Bestival promoter Rob da Bank said thefts are carried out by a small number of gangs and he believes the task force could stamp out the problem altogether.

Gangs follow the festival circuit around the country, normally targeting the campsites on the first night when people have all their weekend’s money.

“Tent theft at our festivals has always been very low, but any theft at all is really upsetting for the promoter and the people involved,” da Bank explained. He was confident that AIF’s initiative can make a difference.

The new task force will allow festival organisers to better share intelligence and effectively target the gangs involved. It will maintain a constant presence at participating festivals, working with event security companies and police services throughout the U.K. to identify known thieves before they enter festival sites.

It will also support and build on existing police initiatives, which have proven the benefit of intelligence-pooling in reducing tent theft. Extra teams will be employed for busy weekends with multiple festivals.

“Festivals have campsite security but it’s not the same people doing the job everywhere,” da Bank told Pollstar. “If we had the same team, then when they got wind of a gang that had been stealing from tents, they could track them around the country and catch them. It’ll be more effective if we have people that know who they’re looking out for.”

He said having one team monitor the situation will ensure that each police authority they work with can share knowledge.

Although da Bank conceded that organised theft isn’t commonplace, at some point it has affected every festival he’s spoken to. This has led him to also invite non-AIF members – which are mainly the larger, corporate-owned festivals including Reading, Leeds, and Download – to join the scheme.

The AIF has already invited reputable security companies with festival experience to put in a tender to set up and run the task force. The participating festivals will share the cost.

AIF expects to have the team in place by March 2009, in plenty of time for next summer’s camping festivals.

The independent festivals organisation was founded in June when da Bank, a BBC Radio One DJ, set up its board.

Members include Creamfields founder James Barton, Chris Greenwood (Big Chill), Chris Smith (Womad), Dave Farrow (Beautiful Days), Franc Gooding (Bloom Festival), Freddie Fellowes (Secret Garden Party), Jim King (Loud Sound), John Reynolds (Electric Picnic-Ireland), Nick Ladd (Glade), Rob Challice (Summer Sundae Weekender) and Tom Baker (Field Day).

The primary purposes of AIF, which is a nonprofit trade organisation affiliated with the Association of Independent Music Companies (AIM), are to help festivals communicate on practical issues including sourcing good toilets, stopping campsite theft, being greener, saving money and to overall make the events “as good as can be.”

AIF is also working on further initiatives, including helping members secure U.K. visas for international artists and develop supplier, service and event databases.

AIF networking and tutoring events will be launched in the new year, covering topics from licensing to booking artists.