I have jacked the following piece off the This Is Plymouth website.
It is credited to Carl_eve and was published on the 16th Oct 2016.
Here is the link to view it it its original form:
The ‘hidden history’ of how the Dance Academy was shut down
Manoucehr Bahmanzadeh ran the Union Street Dance Academy venue from 1997 until its forced closure following a police raid in May 2006.
During those years the Dance Academy became the largest and most popular nightclub in the South West attracting superstar trance and hard house DJs like Judge Jules, Lisa Lashes and Sasha.
However, according to police, by 2005 local and northern drug gangs began to infiltrate the venue, selling class A drugs to revellers while Mr Bahmanzadeh and his key staff turned a “blind eye”.
For those who have listened to the owner of the Dance Academy for the past decade, the case against him was supposedly a conspiracy created by police, the city council and developers to wrest the valuable, strategically important and somewhat problematic listed building out of his hands. Since his conviction and jailing he has let fly at judges and council staff, accusing them of corruption, of underhand practice, of racism.
These claims have undoubtedly been fuelled by nuggets of information which when brought together – but presented without context or further examination – has clearly led to this view.
The facts – some only recently uncovered by The Herald – are undoubtedly fascinating, particularly to those who have keenly followed a decade’s worth of trials and tribulations involving the hugely-popular Dance Academy nightclub and its owner.
They do not prove conspiracy. They do reveal coincidences which can be seen as almost ironic. And on occasions, they do raise questions which, unsatisfyingly, are unlikely to ever be answered.
For instance, not long before police launched a lengthy investigation into suspected drug dealing at the Dance Academy, a team of property consultants were employed by a national and regional development agency to examine the value of the Victorian building and the club’s business. They accurately observed that its value would be lowered if the club was “closed” or its licence “lost”.
Not long after that report was completed, The Herald revealed that in response to suggestions by urban planner David Mackay about a ‘European’ boulevard linking the city centre to Millbay as part of a regeneration scheme for the area, the Palace Theatre could become part of a new waterfront conference centre. At the time a Plymouth City Council spokesman said there were “lots of interesting ideas for the area”.
The spokesman told The Herald that “a new venue linked to the Palace Theatre is one of the possible aspirations that has been put forward as part of the wider regeneration of the area that is being drawn up with involvement of the council.”
While the council never specifically claimed it would look to purchase the building, two months later the Dance Academy nightclub owner gave his response – I’ll sell it if the price is right.
In April 2005 he told The Herald that while he was happy to “see it shining and state-of-the-art” again, he had invested large sums repairing and restoring the original fittings, adding: “If I had not taken on this building it probably would have collapsed by now. It was left to rot by people in Plymouth”
Recognising the council could seek a compulsory purchase order in an effort to pave the way for the regeneration plans, Mr Bahmanzadeh said he had certain conditions for selling.
He said the idea of a sale, with the plan of the Palace Theatre becoming a waterfront conference centre: “sounds like a good idea, but it must not be built on destroying my business just because they want to start a business for someone else in the area. And why would I want to sell now for cheap when the area is being regenerated.”
Just over a year later, on May 7, 2006, around 140 officers raided the venue as they executed a closure order made by Plymouth City Council’s antisocial behaviour unit. Like the recently closed ‘fabric’ nightclub in London, the council and police claimed the Dance Academy was rife with Class A drugs purportedly linked to the dance-music culture the club promoted.
The action against the ‘fabric’ club followed the drug-related deaths of two 18-year-olds, Ryan Browne and Jack Crossley.
By comparison, the Dance Academy was the first nightclub outside London to be forced to close for allowing the sale and consumption of drugs. The first was the Fridge, in Brixton. The promoters of that venue were also never charged.
The five-month long intelligence-led operation in Plymouth which “uncovered significant and widespread class A drug misuse and violence associated with the nightclub” – according to the then Chief Superintendent Morris Watts – resulted in 13 dealers sentenced to terms of imprisonment ranging from 12 months to four-and-a-half years.
However, despite the extensive undercover operation, police found no evidence the club owner was in any way involved in the supply of drugs.
Mr Bahmanzadeh has always denied the offence, claiming he made every conceivable effort to throw out drug dealers from his venue. His claims were backed by the police’s own reports during his appeal in November 2012 and were bolstered by evidence of Tony Pattinson, then of the Harbour centre, who had said the drug taking in the club was “no worse than other clubs”.
However, the law lords dismissed this evidence as irrelevant to his conviction.
Mr Bahmanzadeh said that back in 2004, he had agreed to help with two reports – a “building surveyors” report and a “report and valuation for acquisition purposes” on both the Palace Theatre and Great Western Hotel, written by ‘international property consultants’ King Sturge.
He said he opened his accounts to the consultants and answered questions about the venue, its workings and the profits. He told The Herald he had been open with his business details after claiming council chiefs had told him they were considering purchasing the building from him to turn it into public use.
In 2008 Plymouth City Council told The Herald: “We have no plans to buy the building if it is put up for sale. We have to prioritise the way we spend council taxpayers’ money and buying a building which we do not have any specific use for and which would cost millions of pounds to restore would not be the answer.
The council has emphasised the report was not commissioned by the authority, highlighting it was undertaken by King Sturge on behalf of the South West Regional Development Agency and English Partnerships.
The South West Regional Development Agency was abolished in early 2012 while English Partnerships was replaced by the Homes and Communities Agency in 2008. Attempts by The Herald to determine who else was privy to their report have been unsuccessful.
The report, which has been seen by The Herald, was published on March 31, 2004, and claimed the market value of the Palace Theatre and Great Western Hotel was exactly £1,000,000.
By chance, this was the exact same sum the courts in September 2010 demanded Mr Bahmanzadeh pay as part of the Proceeds of Crime Act order following his 2008 conviction. The amount was, according to a court hearing, decided after careful calculations by police about the financial benefits the club owner accrued by running his venue where drugs were ‘rife’.
At Plymouth Crown Court prosecutor Geoffrey Mercer QC said the agreed benefit Mr Bahmanzadeh had derived from the drug dealing in his club was £1million and since his available assets exceeded that, £1million was what he should pay.
In response to questions by Judge Francis Gilbert about the venue, Mr Mercer said the building was still owned by Mr Bahmanzadeh. While his defence team claimed the building was valued at a nominal £1, prosecutors argued it was worth between £50,000 to £100,000. In addition, Mr Mercer asked for £75,000 prosecution costs – £60,000 for the trial and a further £15,000 for the confiscation proceedings.
Despite objections from the defence barrister, Judge Gilbert said the costs were “modest” and said the jailed club-owner should pay them in full, within six months, together with the £1million.
As for Mr Bahmanzadeh’s £1million Proceeds of Crime Act bill, The Herald later exclusively revealed that £950,730 of it was retained by the State of Jersey after a legal wrangle with the British Government. In the end the Home Office got its hands on just £69,248 – the rest stayed with the State of Jersey
Under the Asset Recovery Incentivisation Scheme, (ARIS) the Government ensures that legal and enforcement agencies receive a proportion of criminal assets recovered. While the Home Office receives 50 percent of confiscated assets, other agencies such as the police and Crown Prosecution Service are given slices of up to 18.75 percent.
In 2012, responding to questions from then Plymouth MP Alison Seabeck, parliamentary undersecretary Crispin Blunt admitted that of Mr Bahmanzadeh’s £1million payment, the Crown Prosecution Service retained a derisory £12,984, which the then Plymouth MP Alison Seabeck said left her “speechless”. It is likely, as the investigating authority, Devon and Cornwall Police received a similar sum.
It was only in late 2012, during his court of Appeal hearing, that evidence was produced revealing how briefing records showed Devon and Cornwall Police’s undercover officers were specifically told to look for evidence connecting the club’s management to the supply and control of drugs.
Mr Bahmanzadeh’s legal team told the court that at the same time as the undercover operation, Bahmanzadeh was regularly meeting with Plymouth licensing officer Fred Prout about improvements to the club’s security.
According to details given at the Court of Appeal, Operation Jonomac was intended to target Mr Bahmanzadeh. According to intelligence being passed to police from an informant, the club owner was the prime suspect in the supply of drugs. However, at the end of the lengthy operation, which involved dozens of undercover officers, no evidence was presented in court which directly linked Mr Bahmanzadeh to the sale of drugs.
Understandably, Mr Bahmanzadeh has said this came to pass because he was never involved in the sale, distribution or supply of drugs. He has rhetorically asked in the past, why would he have offered to pay for a police officer to be posted at his venue, other than warn off and target suspected drug gangs?
During his trial, the jury heard that in 2005 Bahmanzadeh had become ill, suffering from arthritis and eye problems, and had begun to spend a lot of time away from Plymouth, in Sussex and Cyprus.
Documents put forward for his appeal revealed that on March 6, 2006, Mr Bahmanzadeh was congratulated by a licensing officer for barring notorious Manchester criminal Blake Donnellan from the venue the previous month.
Mr Bahmanzadeh repeatedly insisted during and after his trial that Donnellan was one of a number of northern criminals hell bent on taking over his club to sell drugs, much like the Essex Boys gang did in east London and Essex during the early 2000s. Donnellan was already well known to Devon and Cornwall Police at that time as they had repeatedly failed to charge him with any drug offences. Instead they used the Antisocial Behaviour Act to bar him from the city.
It wasn’t until September 2011 that Donnellan was finally jailed for 15 years at Plymouth Crown Court for his role in being part of a multi-million-pound operation to smuggle cocaine into Plymouth.
Mr Bahmanzadeh’s appeal hearing also revealed for the first time that Devon and Cornwall Police knew that Manchester drug gangs were focusing on the club. The court was told the police’s evidence prompted the undercover operation, while during the trial Mr Bahmanzadeh told the court he was repeatedly asking his police contacts for help in tackling the likes of Donnellan and others.
The appeal hearing also revealed how the prosecution’s key witness – a former doorman whom Mr Bahmanzadeh had sacked– had links to individuals well known to police from previous investigations for a number of offences, including murder.
It was only after his sacking, the appeal court heard, that police were handed intelligence from the former doorman which suggested that the club’s management – including Mr Bahmanzadeh – was involved in the supply of drugs inside the venue.
After his failed appeal hearing in 2012, Mr Bahmanzadeh told The Herald: “Whether anybody believes this or not, I did more than a lot of the other club owners in the city to target drug dealers. I got involved physically and was congratulated by the police. I personally threw out people who have since been convicted of serious drug dealing.”
The King Sturge report, presented to the Development Agency and English Partnerships in March 2004, appeared to back Mr Bahmanzadeh’s claims in court that he was running the club well and that police – particularly the licensing officer – were content with the venue.
Mr Bahmanzadeh said the document clearly states the police and council did not have a problem with his club.
The report noted: “The police commented that the management of the nightclub work with the police to combat any drugs problems and the [Plymouth licensing] officer also stated that at present there would be no reason to object to any renewal of the present licence.”
One shadow over the venue was its future. The author of the valuation report noted how for any nightclub there are three stages in the business cycle of a club.
Initially the club opens with “maximum promotion and advertising”, with “high admission prices, high bar take, high salaried costs, strict door policy, tight security, high promotion, low repairs”.
The second stage in “years three and four” admissions reduce but remain “fairly stable due to a relaxing door policy on age and dress standard”.
The third stage meant “greatly reduced admission charges”, “little pretence of a door police and the club appears worn”. The report’s authors claimed the Dance Academy was in this third stage.
The report said that “although it [Dance Academy] has a niche market, without investment we believe the business will begin to fail”.
Ironically, it was put forward by prosecutors at Mr Bahmanzadeh’s trial that the club was one of the top clubs in the UK at the time of the police raid.
Mr Bahmanzadeh told The Herald that in 2004 the King Sturge report clearly stated his club was set to have his license renewed, the police and council had no problems with the venue and he was making a profit.
However, in the King Sturge report, the valuation of the club at £1m was given four key caveats.
The authors noted how “the valuation figure of the Dance Academy will be lower if… the business was closed… the inventory was removed… the licenses were lost… the property was vandalised”.
Within just two years of this assessment being written, a large-scale drugs operation had been launched, numerous small-time dealers were arrested, charged and jailed, the venue was closed under Antisocial Behaviour legislation and the authorities put the club’s management on trial for permitting the use of drugs in his venue. Mr Bahamanzadeh was convicted and ordered to hand over £1m estimated to be the proceeds of his crime.
Despite this staggering figure, Mr Bahmanzadeh was able to pay the full amount – without having to sell his beloved Palace Theatre.
After his release from prison Mr Bahmanzadeh told The Herald: “Even when I was in prison, they did not arrest one single person for stealing lead from the roof of the Palace Theatre, for smashing the windows. Not one. They wanted to see it ruined because the report said it would be cheaper to buy off me.”
The closure of the popular ‘fabric’ nightclub in London last month, after police claimed it was rife with illegal drugs, appears similar to elements of the Dance Academy investigation. It also highlights the questions and complaints Mr Bahmanzadeh has voiced over the years.
While Operation Jonomac netted a haul of dealers in Plymouth, it became clear there was nothing directly linking the sale of drugs to the club’s management.
Nevertheless, the police and Crown Prosecution Service made the decision to charge four members of the club’s management – including Mr Bahmanzadeh and DJ and general manager Tom Costelloe – with an at the time rarely-used charge of permitting the premises to be used for the supply of Class A drugs.
The most damning evidence heard during the trial came from test purchase officers – many of whom gave evidence in court anonymously – who had been deployed at the club between December 2005 and May 2006 over 15 nights. The jury were told that in just 15 nights, the officers had purchased drugs – invariably Class A Ecstasy – on 81 occasions.
During the trial the court heard that Tom Costelloe had told an officer in interview that the club was “fighting a losing battle against drugs”.
During the trial, there was an interesting exchange between the Crown prosecutor Geoffrey Mercer QC and the former DJ and manager Tom Costelloe about efforts made to stop drugs entering the venue.
The DJ noted that the only sure way to stop the drugs was to “get everyone to strip naked at the front door”. Mr Mercer questioned his statement to police about fighting a losing battle, to which Mr Costelloe said it was about clubbers who would hide drugs such as Ecstasy “where you can’t find it”.
The DJ asked: “That’s a losing battle, is it not? What were we expected to do? Get everyone to strip naked at the front door? I’m just being honest with you – you can’t stop people taking drugs.”
Mr Mercer replied “no-one is saying you can” – despite that being the crux of the case against the club’s management, that they could have done more to stop drugs entering the club, but did not.
In his response, Mr Costelloe merely reiterated “well, that’s what I’m saying”.
Another member of the management who was accused of the same offence – but who was found not guilty by the jury – told the jury the club had done everything it could to deter drug use by changing door staff, updating CCTV, clearly marking the drug box and tightening up the body searches.
At one point the prosecutor asked them why the club’s door staff had not bothered to search people’s underpants. The staff worker explained to the jury “you can’t search underpants.”
The court also heard evidence that Mr Bahmanzadeh had sent emails repeatedly offering to pay for a police officer to be posted outside the club.
Following a day’s exchange in court regarding what efforts were made to clamp down on drugs at the venue, one reporter remarked: “If we are going to start jailing people for not doing enough to stop people taking drugs in their premises, then shouldn’t we be jailing every prison governor in the country?”
At one stage during the trial in 2008 Judge Francis Gilbert interrupted prosecutors to ask Mr Costelloe if he had considered putting on “Strictly Come Dancing or line dancing” music to prevent the taking of drugs.
Found guilty in July 2008, Mr Costelloe was jailed for five years. Judge Gilbert recognised he had enjoyed no direct financial benefit from the drug dealing which went on at the club, but had basked in the kudos of being a key figure in a highly successful nightclub.
udge Francis Gilbert, highlighting a statement by Mr Bahmanzadeh to police that he was banking between £30,000 and £40,000 a week from the club, said he had not found a comparable case in law but, working on the basis that Bahmanzadeh ‘knowingly permitted the selling of drugs to make profits’, he looked to tariffs set for drug suppliers earning similar sums. Though not a convicted drug dealer, Mr Bahmanzadeh was handed a comparable sentence of nine years.
Mr Bahmanzadeh has since claimed that the “£30,000 to £40,000 a week” figure was not correct, insisting that when he was interviewed by police he said he “sometimes” banked that much money on weeks such as New Year’s Eve and Boxing Day. He still insists the word “sometimes” was dropped from his statement, although the procedure regarding statements means that officers allow subjects to thoroughly read and then sign the statements to confirm their accuracy.
She said that: “For a number of years Mr Bahmanzadeh ran a venue which was considered a model run club by Plymouth City Council. He co-operated closely with the police and with the Harbour project to provide a safe environment. He has had huge public support with more than 5,000 members of the public signing a petition calling for his release.
“The police’s own figures showed he was the only club owner in Plymouth who regularly arrested and handed over dealers in his premises. But despite this he was selected as the only club owner in Plymouth to suffer this treatment.
“The police’s own figures showed he was the only club owner in Plymouth who regularly arrested and handed over dealers in his premises. But despite this he was selected as the only club owner in Plymouth to suffer this treatment.
“The Home Office guidance at the time said the safety of young clubbers depended on a degree of tolerance of drug use in a safe environment, so as not to drive it underground.”
‘fabric’s licence was suspended following a six-hour long licensing hearing held by Islington Council last month. It saw representatives from fabric, Islington Public Health Authority, Islington License Authority and the Metropolitan Police give evidence in the council chamber.
The licence had been put up for review in August following two drug-related deaths of teenagers. The club has been closed since August 12.
In that time, the global dance music community rallied around fabric, with a change.org petition garnering more than 140,000 signatures. Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry voiced her support, writing via Facebook that “the closure of fabric cannot be the answer” and even London Mayor Sadiq Khan, writing on Facebook, said he was “disappointed that fabric, Islington Council and the Metropolitan Police were unable to reach agreement on how to address concerns about public safety.”
He noted how “issues faced by fabric point to a wider problem of how we protect London’s night-time economy,”
Mirroring comments made previously by Mr Bahmanzadeh prior to his conviction, the director and co-founder of fabric Cameron Leslie pledged to pursue a “gold standard” for safe clubbing after the Met Police called the venue “a safe haven for the supply and consumption of illegal drugs.”
There is no allegation that fabric’s management benefitted financially from the sale of drugs in the way Mr Bahmanzadeh and Mr Costelloe was convicted of. This may add fuel to the club owner’s repeated claims that he has been treated unjustly,and observations from his appeal solicitor, Jane Hickman, that it was “the worst miscarriage of justice” she had ever seen.
Mr Bahmanzadeh was back in the news yet again earlier this month when his planning application to turn the Cooperage into student flats was turned down.
Set in Sutton Harbour, the dilapidated former music venue is almost completely surrounded by a number high-rise flats and apartments which have been built over the last decade.
Mr Bahmanzadeh re-acquired the venue for £310,000 in August 2012 after it was put up for auction. While his identity was kept secret for the first few months, it was revealed in September 2013 when councillors rejected plans to see the bar reopened. At the time, during a heated committee meeting, David Welsh – who hoped to run the pub with a named landlady on behalf of Mr Bahmanzadeh – told the licensing committee they wanted to turn it into a respectable club for an older clientele.
Their plan was to divide the three storey venue into three distinct spaces – a large function suite on the first floor for private parties; a rear bar for live bands and a smaller bar at the front of the building.
However, the proposal ran into a wall of opposition from residents, police representative and environmental health officers.
At the time police licensing officer Jock McIndo said it would lead to an increase in crime and antisocial behaviour in the Bretonside area and be a “recipe for disaster”.
One councillor – possibly unaware there were five bars and clubs all less than 100m from the Cooperage, some with very late licenses– suggested residents would suddenly have to “put up with rather excitable people, who may have drunk too much, outside their property”.
Unsurprisingly, the licensing committed voted to refuse the application.
The announcement that Mr Bahmanzadeh now wanted to build student flats on the site was met with alarm, with some commenters claiming he was trying to destroy the city’s heritage
Planning officers recommended refusal of the application which would have seen the Vauxhall Street building bulldozed and a six-storey student block in its place.
Council officials claimed it would result in ” substantial harm to the character and appearance of the Barbican conservation area”.
At the time of the auction in 2012, the auctioneer Graham Barton, said: “We are not privy to the buyer’s immediate plans for the property, if any, but the building could be used as a music venue again or was also ideally placed for mixed residential and commercial development subject to all necessary consents being obtainable.”
The planning committee finally debated the planning application on Thursday, rejecting it on the grounds that Plymouth would lose a “key historic building” which would result in “substantial harm to the character of the Barbican Conservation Area”.
Mr Bahmanzadeh’s agent, Michael Widdington, revealed it would cost £2 million to transform the 18th Century building into a usable site.
Apparently unaware of the licencing committee’s decision in 2013, the vice chair of the planning committee, councillor Maddi Bridgeman claimed at the meeting she agreed with the refusal, saying she would “love to see it reinstated as a music venue.”
Mr Bahmanzadeh has been asked by The Herald if he wishes to comment about Plymouth City Council’s planning decision and what he intends to do with the Cooperage.