The Isle of Man Constabulary notes with disappointment the decision of the organising committee of the Castletown Festival to rearrange its programme of events, so that no music was played after 6pm on the day of the event, Saturday 5th August 2017. The Constabulary also notes the contents of a media release issued by the committee on Friday 4th August. The decision taken by the committee was entirely avoidable and the Constabulary firmly believes that an alternative approach could easily have been taken that would have allowed the evening entertainment to go ahead.
The Constabulary has no desire at all to interfere with properly organised community events and it is proud to play a part in dozens of such events that take place across the Island each year. The key to the success of these events is in proper, meaningful cooperation between the organisers and the police. The Constabulary’s sole concern is public safety.
The Constabulary has repeatedly raised concerns about the running of the Castletown Festival for more than a decade. This does not relate at all to the daytime events, which are pleasant, successful family affairs. The concerns focus instead on what happens in the evening, when the musical element of the programme attracts a mix of families, people interested only in drinking and teenagers who travel to the event from across the Island, many of whom become intoxicated, sometimes dangerously so.
The abuse of alcohol is the main problem and all event organisers have a responsibility to run safe events. In the Isle of Man event organisers are asked to comply with the Event Safety Guide (also known as the Purple Guide), irrespective of whether they are a commercial organisation or a body that sees its purpose as being philanthropic. It is on some aspects of this point that the Constabulary and the festival committee have divergent views.
In recent years, problems experienced during the evening part of Castletown Festival have led to the police making arrests for offences of assault, drunkenness, criminal damage, and for breaches of the Public Order Act. Some of the offences have been serious, including on one occasion an on duty Constable suffering grievous bodily harm as a result of an attack.
Of most concern to the Constabulary has been the growth in the abuse of alcohol by teenagers at the Festival. These young people put themselves and others in danger and some have required hospital treatment as a result of their excessive drinking. Their behaviour causes a public nuisance and requires special attention from the police and from youth workers especially deployed to the event.
The festival committee has been reluctant to accept its responsibilities as an event organiser, placing the onus for managing behaviour at the event on the police. This is not how events should be run. The police are there to support event organisers, not to do their job for them. As a result of the anti-social behaviour experienced in recent years, Castletown Festival has become the most heavily policed event outside the TT, which in turn has implications on the resources available to police the rest of the Island.
While the Constabulary and Castletown festival organisers have achieved some progress it has not been enough to allay the serious concerns over public safety. The Constabulary has long been disappointed that the festival committee do not accept that crime, disorder and drunkenness often accompany the event in Castletown, or that the organisers have a part to play in preventing and reducing such problems. This is the crux of the issue. There are risks in running an event, but those risks can be mitigated with careful planning and co-operation with various public service agencies.
There is a clause in the Music and Dancing Act that allows events run for a philanthropic purpose to avoid being licensed. However, earlier this summer the Constabulary received new legal advice from the HM Attorney General’s Chambers, which clearly indicated that the Castletown Festival committee could no longer rely on the philanthropy clause as it had in previous years. The Constabulary advised the committee well in advance of the Festival that it should seek a licence for the evening part of the programme. The Constabulary was prepared to work with the organisers and support the granting of a licence, subject to reasonable conditions being put in place, based around the Event Safety Guide.
The committee refused to accept the advice and chose not to apply for a licence. Meetings were held in the weeks leading up to the Festival in an attempt to find a way forward, but the committee refused to change its approach. It was made clear that, if the event went ahead without a licence, members of the committee would run the risk of being reported to HM Attorney General for consideration of prosecution. This is not at all the same as telling them they would be prosecuted. The Constabulary does not prosecute anyone. All cases referred by the police are reviewed by a prosecutor, who considers Manx law, established policy and the guidance to prosecutors, issued by HM Crown Prosecution Service, before making a decision. A key consideration is that of public interest.
The committee had choices that could have allowed the Festival’s evening programme to go ahead. However, it chose not to pursue the matter through an application to the Licensing Court – the only way that would have allowed the correct legal position to be established.
The Constabulary was obliged to pass on the new legal advice from HM Attorney General’s Chambers in this matter and is disappointed that the committee chose to make drastic alterations to the evening programme, instead of taking a more pragmatic approach.
To reiterate: the issue here is less about the legal niceties of the Music and Dancing Act and more about the duties of all event organisers to place all aspects of public safety at the centre of the planning and running of an event. The Constabulary has not encountered any other organisation that shows a reluctance to embrace and promote safety in this way.
The Constabulary has made its position clear and wants to support a well-run, safe Castletown Festival in the future. It looks forward to continuing its discussions with the event organisers to achieve this aim.