Leeds Festival must ‘improve’ after tragic death of a teenager at last year’s event

Leeds Festival organisers must make “rigorous” improvements following the tragic death of a teenager at last year’s event, a prominent local councillor has claimed.

16 year-old David Celino died in hospital after falling ill at the music festival last August, after he was thought to have taken an ecstasy tablet. West Yorkshire Police were investigating the circumstances around the popular Salford pupil’s death, but have not responded to questions about what stage these enquiries are at now.

Organised by Festival Republic, Leeds Fest draws tens of thousands of music fans to Bramham Park, near Wetherby, every summer. It is by far the biggest event licensed by Leeds City Council.

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But Conservative councillor for Wetherby, Alan Lamb, urged the local authority not to be “blinded” by the financial boost the festival gives the city, at the expense of ensuring the safety of young people.

Revelers during the Leeds Festival 2022 at Bramham Park in Leeds. (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)Revelers during the Leeds Festival 2022 at Bramham Park in Leeds. (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)
Revelers during the Leeds Festival 2022 at Bramham Park in Leeds. (Photo credit: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

Speaking at a full council meeting on Wednesday, Councillor Lamb said: “The economic impact is hugely important for the rural economy and the wider city and it helps to put us on the map. But there are problems. Tragically last year, a young man died. Sadly it’s not the first time it’s happened either. We have to learn lessons.”

Councillor Lamb, who is the Conservative Opposition’s deputy leader on the city council, praised Festival Republic for “working well and engaging with the local community”. He said there were “good relationships” between organisers and local politicians.

But he cautioned: “We always need to be prepared to say when things need to improve. When there’s been a tragic death, such as this, then things do need to improve. I hope our licensing department isn’t blinded by the economic benefits provided by the festival. They need to step up and say what rigorous things need to be put in place. That doesn’t have to be adversarial.

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“Things need to change. Every year things have changed and got better, but we have to do more.”

The chair of the council’s licensing committee, Labour councillor James Gibson, said he’d written to Festival Republic about issues linked to safety on Tuesday (Mar 21).

Organisers, including MD Melvyn Benn were recently grilled by the committee about last year’s event. A later discussion about safety and the circumstances around David’s death was held in private. Festival Republic was approached for comment about Councillor Lamb’s remarks and asked to confirm if it had received the letter from the licensing committee. It has not responded.

The deputy leader of the council, Debra Coupar, was one of several elected members to offer their sympathies to David’s family.

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She said: “I can’t begin to imagine the effect of such a loss. I know that the licensing committee is working alongside our partner organisations to do all we can to prevent such a tragedy from happening again.”