Gangs To Target Smaller Fests

Next summer criminal gangs are likely to target the UK’s smaller festivals, according to security expert Reg Walker.

The Iridium Consultancy director told the UK Festival Conference that anti-crime measures at the major festivals could well drive the gangs toward smaller gatherings.

“Small festivals do not have specially trained officers they can call on and have very low, or sometimes no level of policing at all,”, Walker told conference delegates at London’s O2 Nov. 18.

He said many smaller festivals were “boutique” rather than mass-market events and had a “highly affluent demographic,” which makes them appealing to criminals.

Despite growing concerns about organised gangs targeting festivals, usually to pick pockets or steal from tents, Walker said people are still much safer at a music festival than when “walking down the High Street.”

Sharing Walker’s theory regarding smaller events, Detective Constable Kevin Walker from Leicestershire police said he’s beginning to see evidence of smaller events being targeted. He gave an example of a recent small-scale event where pickpockets had taken more than 40 mobile phones from customers.

Jim King of Loud Sound, whose Rockness Festival later won a UK Festival Award for having the best lineup, said the co-operation between the police and major event promoters is significantly reducing organised crime at the bigger outdoors.

King, whose company is also a member of the Association of Independent Festivals, said the conscious effort to get police and promoters in one room and look at tackling crime has been “incredibly successful.”

It’s resulted in helping the police and festival security teams to identify and track criminal gangs and even preventing them from entering the site.

He pointed out that negative headlines about crime were bad for business because they could lead to parents from preventing their children from attending.

He said the cost of policing an event has become a serious barrier to anyone wanting to start a festival and small festivals – “where much of the creativity comes from” – have a special need for protection.

Sofia Hagberg from the 7,000-capacity End of the Road Festival in North Dorset told the conference that – after years of being crime free – the 2010 event was targeted by a gang that are believed to have stolen from more than 100 tents.
Hagberg said the criminals had travelled from Manchester, and it subsequently emerged that they were well-known to Greater Manchester Police.

“They had bought their tickets, they looked like regular festival-goers, so it was hard for us,” Hagberg explained.

“We spend as much as we can on security, but when you are a small festival on a small budget it’s tough,” she said.

The other conference topics included whether non-ticketed events should be banned, particularly in view of what happened at this year’s Love Parade in Duisburg, Germany, how to make outdoor shows more profitable, and the best ways to attract sponsorship.