Live In-Depth Coverage of the Glastonbury 2003 Licence Hearing

VF sent a mobile team to the licence hearing at Mendip District Council to bring you a blow-by-blow on proceedings... and after over 7 hours we got the result to you first. Glastonbury 2003 - here we come!

[l-Zone1]Monday 17th Feb 2003 is the second showdown between the festival organisers and the local Council. If the revised plans are to the liking of the authorities then it’s all steam ahead for another glorious long weekend at Worthy Farm at the end of June.

[R-Zone2]As day broke on 17th February Pilton village found itself the victim of what is more commonly an urban crime. Graffiti was daubed over walls and houses that shouted out both for and against Glastonbury Festival. Festival emprisario and local farmer Michael Eavis responded immediately by despatching a clean-up team. However, as the licence hearing convened this evening, things took a bizarre turn as the police called Councillors from the room to discuss a ‘point of law’…a point that almost certainly related to the earlier graffiti incident.

After a 20 minute adjornment however, the Councillors returned, and proceedings restarted.

[l-zone2]The first item of clarification concerned the resolution passed at the last ]hearing. It was confirmed that it had not been the intention of the board to indicate that it would never again consider an application for a festival on this site. In fact it was confirmed that such a refusal would, in itself, be illegal.

Another delay for a late letter to be photocopied and circulated to the Board.

The board was the advised of relevant considerations for the decision:-

Fitness and reliability of the applicant (Melvin Benn in this case) and ability to deliver what is in the application; suitability of the site and off site security; Section 17 of Crime & Disorder Act.

The new application is tabled:

150,000 tickets, with Melvin Benn as the applicant in his personal capacity.

This switch of applicants (it was previously Glastonbury Festivals 2003) causes some comment from Board Members.

Reservations are voiced by the local police superintendant about documentation from Crime Concern. He wants to know who has put this report together (“Rob George”, responds Melvin Benn) and upon what basis the author purports to be experienced in the field of festival event licencing.

Melvin explains that Rob George originally advised local Councillors about a previous application. He also expands on the overall roll of Crime Concern in putting together the Glastonbury crime reduction strategy linked with Section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act.

The superintendent is not satisfied, commenting that on first reading this doesn’t look like a well written document. He asks for – and is granted – a 30 minute adjornment.

It’s 7.15pm and looks like being a long night…


[l-Zone1]7.45pm and the Board retake their seats to continue deliberations. Hopefully the break will have allowed the police to consider the crime concern letter.

Paragraphs 1,2,3,4 and 8 are objected to and rejected by the police and Melvin Benn accepts this compromise, apologising for the delay. The Council’s legal advisor comments that he is happy with what remains concerning the S.17 issues.

Melvin Benn opens his application presentation.

He firstly points to his CV of having put his personal name to many, many successful prior events – having always met the provisions of the licenses he has obtained under the local authority miscellaneous provisions act.

Secondly, he sets out the history of the festival, and pointing to how it has worked successfully for 33 years – predating the ‘Pop Code’ of practice, which he himself was intrinsically involved in writing.

The next point relates to the need to ensure that this licence application is judged on its own merits and not on any previous experiences…even though, as he stresses, he fully met all of the demands of the licence conditions in 2002.

He does admit that last year there were ‘many’ complaints. That is, 61 letters from 50 individuals…not bad really considering the global appeal and draw of the event.

Following those complaints Melvin himself met for a “cup of tea and a chat” with one of the loudest local dissenting voices. Out of this he feels that he has made a number of new proposals that will meet local reservations.

The numbers of tickets applied for are:-

  • 112,500 public tickets
  • 3,500 Sunday tickets
  • 34,000 passes

(That is, a 10,000 increase on 2002)

New positions have been created including a village liaison manager, car park co-ordinators and litter zone managers, and it is noted that as much attention will be given to decommissioning the site as will be given to setting it up.

The 538 page application is, in Melvin’s view, the most comprehensive such document that is likely to be submitted for an event like this.

On numbers of people attending, he comments upon the fact that some previous years have had an estimated 300,000+ attendees – and the infrastructure still coped. He jokes with Cllr Skidmore that this year he will take the same bet that he did last year…that there won’t be 1000’s of people clamouring at the gates…and this year he expects the Cllr to pay up when he loses!

As to the suitability of the site, he goes on to say that, without a[R-Zone3]
 doubt, this is the best festival sites he has ever come across – how could anyone disagree?

Security comes next, and Melvin announces various enhancements based on last year’s experience. There will be a 100%  increase in covert security, the number of security towers is to rise to 100 and there will now be five security measures on tickets to combat the touts and forgers. The unauthorised car parks will also be either closed or controlled wherever possible. Injunctions may be sought where feasible.

On transport it is noted that car parking capacity is 40,000, but last year there were only 26,000, and only a 1,000 increase is expected this year. There is also an additional exit/entrance on the Eastern side to the A37, and the breaking down and derigging of the main stage will be delayed 8 hours to keep the articulated lorries on site longer and thus allow guests to leave more easily.

Electrical cables will be buried where possible to reduce power cuts, and there will be more lighting towers and strings of lights along walkways.

[l-Zone2]Toilets…well, we all know about the Glastonbury loos! Melvin explains how the toilet provision is more than adequate – if infamous. He also sets out some work he has done with the Environment Agency to improve standards. Hoorah!

The environmental impacts of the festival are set out next. The festival recycles many many tonnes of aluminium, cadboard and glass, and a full biodiversity survey is to be carried out, as well as Michael’s ongoing commitment to the Future Forests campaign.

Noise is another issue, and the Smirnoff dance stage has fallen victim to the need to reduce the overall noise impact…good news for the purists who want all branding removed from the festival.

Crime on the campsites is also to be addressed. Campsite densities are to be kept down to make it harder for criminals to get lost in the crowd. A crime reduction officer will be employed to advise on all issues relating to the the potential for festival goers to become the victims of crime…the aim being to minimise crime as far as is possible.

It’s 8.40pm, and we are on chapter 18 of Melvin’s journey through the 33 chapters of the Pop Code…bedtime looks a long way off!



[l-Zone1]If you’re going to get sick then according to Melvin Glastonbury Festival is the place to do it. Apparently the health facilities are better than some countries formal health services – quote, ‘the envy of the world!’

As for the message to those without tickets, this year it includes all of the Security measures off-site, as well as having the powerful tag-line “you’ve saved the festival, now give it a future!”.

[R-Zone3]The final chapter (34) of the application is about respect and care for the residents of the local villages, and it is a chapter that has been added to the standard Pop Code specially for Glastonbury. Last year it was estimated that 150 criminal elements generated a fear of crime that was disproportionate to the actual crimes commited. There were in fact significant crime statistic reductions in 2002 in every area except burglary, where there were only six reported cases.

Whilst S17 discounts the fear of crime as a justifiable ground for objections on an application such as this, Melvin reassures the Board that it IS a concern that he will endeavour to fully address.

The following proposals put security measures at the Pentgon to shame!

[R-Zone2]”I am not a festival organiser who is distant. I am not a festival organiser who doesn’t care.” Melvin summarises the direct contact that he has had with many individuals and agencies in submitting this application, and emphasises that partnership working is at the core of his philosphy and that he genuinely believes that the application should be judged well.

9.00pm, and members of the board now have the opportunity to put questions to Melvin:

“What is the cost to the local health service?”

Whatever the cost, it is far outweighed by the contributions that the festival makes to the public purse, either through voluntary contributions or taxes.

“What is the role of Glastonbury Festivals 2003 Ltd. in this application?”

GF2003Ltd is the operating company set up to run and manage the festival.

“How will the issue of people bringing alcohol onto site be dealt with?”

People glass bottles will have to return them to their car or surrender them at the gate. Moderate amounts of alcohol for personal consumption are permitted, but large quantities will be turned away.

“How will power cuts actually be dealt with?”

The cables identified as vulnerable to damage will be buried to protect them.

“How legal is the application?” There are lots of documents in the application in the name of Glastonbury Festivals Ltd or Michael Eavis.

Melvin is happy to take full responsibility for all contractual obligations, and everyone seems satisfied with this.

“Mr Benn, can you confirm that you are MD of Mean Fiddler?”


Mean Fiddler owns and runs Subterannia in an area notorious for race riots…although I’m not aware of any problems in the club. You also ran a festival called Tribal Gathering near Twyford Down at Cheeseford Head, an area of outstanding natural beauty…(nobody is quite sure where this is going)…and of course there was Leeds festival over the last few years…ah, now we see it coming…so, Mr Benn, do you think you are a suitable person to run this festival.

“Yes”, says Melvin emphatically.

…well that’s settled then!

And by the way, we have never run Tribal Gathering at that site… perhaps you meant Homelands? Unless I once organised Tribal Gathering there in my sleep!


The Council’s report sounds favourable. “Officers have no reservations or objections to this licence application. We find that imrovements have been made on last years plans, and we recommend the granting of the licence as applied for.”

Questions are put by Board members.

Have you considered the suitability of the site in respect of the application?

Yes, all officers have considered this.

Will the shortage of toilets be addressed?

There are more than there needs to be, it is positioning that we need to look at.

That seems to be it for the Council officer, now it’s time to hear from the Police.

First, an explanation of the graffiti offences. There were 8 cases of criminal damage over the last 48 hours, some with messages in favour of the festival, and some against it. It was apparent that the aim of this graffiti was to intimidate people who might be attending this hearing.

[l-Zone1]Next, there is a broad history of the crime statistics associated with the festival. The history until a few years ago makes grim reading, however as the story comes up to date it becomes clear that there is broad satisfaction with the recent situation, and, in summary, the police now seem genuinely impressed and happy with the organisational arrangements.

That said, there continue to be serious problems outside the site. Last year there was even the implementation of special police powers to given blanket authority across the site and right out into the villages to search for weapons or other items.

One of the most serious incidents was the death caused by a man being hit by a car that failed to stop. It was soon traced to one of the unofficial car parks, and three men have now been charged, two of whom got over two years in prison.

228 arrests were made last year- 37per cent from Merseyside…no surprises there then! (+++please see the last page of this article for more on this issue+++)

Regarding the costs, the total police costs were well in excess of £1.2m, over half of this (£635,000) was contributed by Glastonbury Festivals.

After a bit more in the way of statistics, the summing up identifies the significant role that these figures must have on considerations concerning Section 17. It also, however, applauds a large number of aspects of the crime reduction strategy submitted by Glastonbury Festivals Ltd. Clearly these won’t solve all the problems, but they should minimise them.

The force does not object to the application, but the question is put to the Board ‘can the festival really justify the crime levels associated with the event?’

Questions to the police from the board…

How do crime levels compare to a city or town with a comparable population?

They are very high. Bath has a similar number of people, and we wouldn’t ever see that number of crimes there (of course this isn’t really a fair comparison…not every resident of Bath goes to the town centre pubs on a Saturday night, do they?)

If you don’t object to the application then would you support the Board if the board agreed that S17 was not an issue on which the application could be refused?

That’s a hypothetical question, and I couldn’t answer it now.

Fire service now.

No objections.

Question – should open fires and wax flares be banned?

[l-Zone3]Fires are already banned as part of the licence conditions, but only in public areas – they are allowed in the campsites.

What if there is a fire strike?

The on site Glastonbury team have adequate resources to deal with most situations themselves.

10.30pm, and it’s time for the Ambulance Service

There is a written submission with no objections.

The only small issue is around the medical provisions of the major incident plan, and this should be addressed by the time of the festival.



11.00pm, and we’re all looking forward to a bit more protracted public consultation.

Next up is the ward councillor, the parish councils, a variety of officials, the local for and against crew (likely to take an hour) and finally the debate and the vote.

West Pennard parish is happy with the organisation, and supports the application. They have been meeting the organisers monthly, and are satisfied that Melvin and the others are acting in the best interests of the community.

The Leader of the Council gets philosphical.

He makes it clear that the festival has been an enormous positive force in developing Mendip’s economic, environmental and social wellbeing. The fact that a few people (‘a significant and important minority’) have undoubtedly suffered some problems is unfortunate, but the greater good must prevail. The trick is to balanced risk – not become completely risk averse. His recommendation is that the Board accepts the application rather than leaving the decision to ‘the vagaries of the magistrates court.’

The floor is now opened to the public. Each speaker has 3 1/2 minutes to put their point, for or against. They are instructed to void repetition of points already made.

The first point is made by a resident of ten years standing. He has always been happy with the festival, although last year there was a bit of a problem with the people who couldn’t get into the festival becaused of the heightened security.

Crime or the fear of crime looks likely to be the recurring theme…despite the instruction not to repeat earlier points.

This is borne out, so at the end of the day nothing new is said, and Melvin doesn’t see any need to respond.

Ten supporters now get their chance to speak:

The first speaker (a criminal barrister) talks of her initial concerns when she first moved into an adjacent farm. However she agrees with the Leader of the Council that the festival is a very good thing for the whole area.

[l-Zone2] Speaker two is the president of a FTSE 50 company – not the typical festival crusty. He is positively ebulient about how great the festival is…and he had a great time last year with over 50 house guests for the weekend!

Speaker three is a property agent who works on the auctioning of agricultural land. His point concerns the government’s desire to see farm businesses diversify through one of the greatest farming slumps in memory…and if this isn’t diversification in practice, then what is?

Long term residents and festival goers take the next couple of slots. Simple support is voiced effectively.[R-Zone1]

A resident of 8 years standing reiterates some of the earlier points about the unique special nature of the event and voices his support for the application. His experiences, and those of his family, have been nothing but positive.

The Chair of the local round table is next up. He has seen problems solved year on year. As far as burglary is concerned, he has been burgled 5 times in the last 18 months, and none of these incidents have been during the festival.

[l-Zone3]The last speaker is the former Chair of the local County Council. His information from the County Treasurer is that the cost of the festival has never been an issue as it brings in at least £10m+ of inward investment to the County.

Melvin Benn takes the opportunity (at the witching hour of midnight) to sum up his case…..


,The fundamental point is that it should not be the job of the Board to stop the festival…it should be to make the festival safe…that is, to grant the licence with conditions.

Recomendations are now to be debated and voted on by the Board:

Councillor 1 – in favour…don’t give it to the magistrates

Councillor 2 – against…but this is the local ward councillor. He wants the S17 issue to be tested by the courts. He admits he might be responsible for the longevity of the event because he has kept forcing the event to improve.

Councillor 3 – in favour…always voted against in the past, but after last year’s success inside the site he is impressed and believes that the festival will be equally successful outside the site this year.

Councillor 4 – Against… can see points in favour and points against. Worried about the costs and worried about a potential lack of police resources. Thinks that S17 conditions can’t be met.

Councillor 5 – In favour…although reservations about policing and wondered if more can’t be drafted in?

Councillor 6 – In favour…sees the event as a major international landmark event and recognises how important the festival is to the economic prosperity of Somerset.

Councillor 7 – Against…the police report is compelling, and crime is clearly the biggest issue.

Councillor 8 – In favour…and if we need more police then just get some royals along for the weekend!

Councillor 9 – Wavering…management is vastly improved, although the problems are often ones that simple management may never solve. This is a far better proposition than previous years, although the increase in numbers is an issue of concern.

Councillor 10 – Against…environmental impact upon Pilton is his concern, and the police report is the thing that swung his view.

Councillor 11 – In favour…let’s not live in fear of the unknown when we know for a fact how great the festival is.

Councillor 12 – In favour…getting back to basics on the reasons that the Board can turn down the application, he feels that on balance none of the refusal conditions are met.

Councillor 13 – In favour…if the police had wanted to object then they would have done – and they didn’t. The message has got out now that you can’t get in without a ticket, so fewer speculative punters should turn up this year.

Nearly 1.00am and the debate continues……. [R-Zone4]

The motion is tabled and seconded to approve the licence.

Ten in favour and four against

Well here’s the news we’ve been waiting for…APPROVED, and that’s for 150,000!

Big smiles all round and Michael Eavis is grinning from ear to ear.


Immediately following the publication of our festival licence hearing coverage, we received the following e-mail from someone living in Liverpool:-

While I thank you for the informative article written and published last night, I would like to voice my objection to the comments made about arrests at last years festival.

I am sure that you are correct in saying that 37% of arrests made at Glastonbury 2002 were of people from Merseyside, but I do not see how this has any relevance to the article. I think that I would have overlooked this piece of information if it had not been followed by “no surprises there then!”. I am sure that this was meant as a joke, but by publishing such comments in a article which is likely to be widely read by people from all around the UK, as well as people living abroad, you are giving the public reason to believe that all residents from Merseyside are likely to behave in a way which may lead to them being arrested. This is simply unfair. As a Liverpudlian, I feel that the county needs no such publicity, and I am most disappointed and offended that this comment was allowed to be included in an article as serious and seemingly well written as yours.


Now clearly we at VF appreciate this sentiment, and we certainly didn’t set out to offend the many great and wonderful people who live in or hail from the area around the banks of the Mersey. However, it is sadly the case that there is has been a trend developing over recent years where it seems that a large number of organised groups of criminals have been working out of Liverpool and the surrounding area and targeting music festival goers for robbery and theft.

This is a well recognised fact amongst regular festival goers, and it is what led to the widespread joke at Glastonbury 2002 that they shouldn’t have put the fence around the festival, they should have put it around Liverpool.

Now we want to repeat ourselves here, and make it quite clear that we are not tarring everyone in that city with the same brush. Everywhere has it’s criminal culture of course – it just so happens that criminals from the Mersey have seemingly opted to add festivals to the more common list of car theft and burglary.

What we would like to say to the people of Liverpool (and, for that matter, everyone in the UK) is this: if you know of anyone who you believe is heading down to Glastonbury (or any of the other major UK festivals) with the intention of committing criminal offences then please do the right thing and let the police know. If you contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 in confidence then they can alert the authorities monitoring the festival, and hopefully crimes can be stopped before they have been committed.

Festivals are about a spirit of freedom and enjoyment – a celebration of all the good things in life. Help us to stop those small minded people who seem intent upon ruining this great way of life!