A SOCIAL club has been told it can continue to let children aged 10 and under grapple each other in a cage, pending the final approval of the council.
A crowd of about 250 watched two boys aged eight and nine take part in a bout at Greenlands Labour Club in Preston two months ago.
Many more viewed the footage, which was posted on the internet and then subsequently attracted worldwide media attention and controversy.
The boys fought without headgear and complete protective padding in three two-minute rounds as one of them was seen breaking down in tears.
Yesterday, the city council’s licensing committee ruled the club had breached its licence by allowing children to remain on the premises after 6pm, as they did not leave until a hour later.
It could have revoked or suspended the club’s licence, but instead ordered that in future it should notify the council at least 21 days in advance of any event to be staged involving physical contact between children under 10.
Licence holder Michelle Anderson would then have to comply with any requirements the committee requested after consultation.
Following the hearing at Preston Town Hall, Mrs Anderson said: “We are very pleased with this decision.
“They have confirmed that we can hold similar events in the near future which promote healthy sporting events in the city.”
Solicitor Paul Dixon, representing Mrs Anderson, had urged councillors to “look beyond the headlines” and judge the event on what they saw for themselves on a video clip.
“You can see that the two boys did not kick, punch or otherwise strike each other,” he said.
“They were involved in a demonstration of wrestling or grappling. This was not cage fighting.
He continued: “The two boys take part in wrestling demonstration events on a regular basis.
“They know each other well and they are good friends. They also take part in competitive events.
“Was what you saw any different to a kids’ karate club session or a kids’ rugby game?”
He said it was “significant” that the police and the local authority’s child safeguarding board had chosen not to make any representations on the matter.
Coun Pauline Brown asked: “If it is not cage fighting, then why were they in a cage?”
Mr Dixon replied that the cage itself was considered a safe environment, being a well-padded arena with a raised platform so people could watch.
Youth demonstrations regularly took place before adult fights, he said.
Coun Bobby Cartwright questioned the appropriateness of youngsters in an environment surrounded by adults who were drinking alcohol.
“Somehow I am struggling to absorb the concept of a demonstration when there seemed to be an awful lot of hype,” she said.
Amid the controversy, Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the event as “barbaric” and expressed shock at an apparent lack of restrictions on the activity. The children’s charity NSPCC branded the fight “disturbing”.
It warned parents against allowing youngsters to take part in cage fighting while they are developing both physically and mentally.
But Nick Hartley, the father of one of the youngsters, said his son “loved” the sport which he likened to wrestling.
He said: “It’s not one bit dangerous, it’s a controlled sport.
“He likes to do it. He’s never forced to do it, he wants to do it, so leave him to do it.
“He’ll never get hurt, it’s a controlled sport, he could never get hurt.”