Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Sunday, 15 November 2009

Concert-goers condemn crush chaos


Martin Krol and Rachel Liddiard watched the crowd surge from their flat which overlooks Millennium Point

Organisers of Birmingham's Christmas lights switch-on have faced criticism after about 60 people were injured during a performance by the group JLS.

The free event at Millennium Point was swamped by more than 20,000 revellers.

As crowds surged to get into the packed square, barriers gave way leaving four people needing hospital treatment and scores of others injured.

Birmingham City Council defended the decision to abandon the event and said an investigation had been started.

A number of other chart acts, including Calvin Harris, Tinchy Stryder and Natalie Imbruglia, had been booked to appear at the event, but it was stopped after the chaotic crowd scenes towards the end of JLS's performance.

Martin Mullaney, in charge of leisure, sport and culture at the council, said: "I fully support the joint decision to abandon the concert because public safety has to be our immediate concern.

"I would sooner read headlines about red faces than read headlines about a tragedy.

Policeman gestures to crowd. Picture by Tom Thorpe
The police were totally outnumbered - there were far too many people in the crowd for them to be able to cope
Martin Krol

"I'm sorry a lot of people went home disappointed and there will be a full investigation into what went wrong and what lessons can be learned for the future."

But a number of people contacted the BBC to condemn the organisation of the event, which the council jointly ran with local radio station BRMB.

Grace Ingram, from Birmingham, said she and her friend fell to the floor in the surge and were trodden on by the crowd.

She added: "The event was so badly organised. We all knew it would be packed because of JLS, so why didn't the police know that?"

Janet Hylton, from Sutton Coldfield, told the BBC: "There was very little being done to keep the crowds back.

"With such a strong line-up of acts surely it must have been blindingly obvious that there would be a huge turnout with serious safety implications."

Martin Krol, who lives in a flat overlooking Millennium Point, said he saw people pushing at a fence at the front of the crowd.

He said: "The police were totally outnumbered - there were far too many people in the crowd for them to be able to cope.

"It was absolute chaos - the ambulances couldn't get through - and it took quite a while for them to be able to clear the area because there were so many people."

'Barrier collapsed'

Most of the injured were treated at the scene, but four people needed hospital treatment

West Midlands Ambulance Service said one woman in her 30s suffered serious crush injuries to her pelvis, shoulder and leg, while another suffered a broken ankle in the surge.

A teenage boy fractured his wrist in the melee, while a girl in her teens suffered crush injuries to her back and legs.

Paramedic Barry Timms said: "There was a very large crowd, believed to be 21,000 people, in attendance and there had been a crush outside the event trying to get in as JLS started playing.

Birmingham MP Khalid Mahmood has condemned the organisers

"A metal fence collapsed trapping a couple of people underneath. As the barrier collapsed it's believed people were trapped and trampled underneath it."

The council said a combination of fears over the number of people and bad weather led them to cancel the event.

Other acts that had been scheduled to appear as part of the five-hour event included Chipmunk, Girls Can't Catch, Little Boots, The Saturdays, The Noisettes, Taio Cruz and Pixie Lott.

But the big draw was JLS, who have built up a legion of young female fans and recorded two number one singles since finishing second in last year's X Factor. In December, five teenage girls were injured when JLS performed at a free concert in Croydon and bigger numbers than expected turned up.

Perry Barr MP Khalid Mahmood said people had sent their children to the event, "trusting the fact that the local authority had arranged this and made it secure".

He added: "This could have been far, far worse than it was. We are very very lucky.

"There was no real assessment of what the dangers were and how many people there could be."

'Pulling power'

Steve Hollingworth, from Birmingham City Council, said the Millennium Point event had been properly organised.

He told BBC News: "We had a full meeting beforehand with all the emergency services. Everybody was comfortable with what we were doing.

"We are experienced at holding events but clearly the crowd was very significant and the people outside the event were clearly determined to get in."

However, Mr Hollingworth said the council would have to review whether the city council could hold large, free events again.

He said: "We really need to review that now, with the pulling power of these artists, we need to look to see if there is any suitable site in the city that can cope."

The city's Christmas lights were finally switched on as part of the annual Reindeer Parade in Birmingham's High Street on Sunday afternoon.

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