Illegal is more fun for some ravers

As a Norfolk MP called for a change in the law to tackle illegal raves yesterday, the organisers of one of the region's largest legal music events were preparing to change venues following local objections.

As a Norfolk MP called for a change in the law to tackle illegal raves yesterday, the organisers of one of the region's largest legal music events were preparing to change venues following local objections.

Adam Gretton assesses the dilemma facing the local raver….

They are the bane of rural villagers, landowners, conservationists, and are an extra burden on local police resources.

But for some, the Norfolk rave scene represents a chance for young people with the same musical interests to let their hair down at the weekends in isolated locations.

With the illegal rave season in full swing, South West Norfolk MP Christopher Fraser introduced a new bill in the Commons yesterday in an attempt to strengthen the law and give police greater powers to crackdown on large unlicensed gatherings.

But as the Conservative MP called for a change to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act to introduce two new rave-related offences, one of the county's only legal raves was being reorganised in the face of objectors.

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The organiser of the Spectrum Warehouse Party, which was set to attract 4,000 partygoers to an all-night event at the Norfolk Showground's Exhibition Hall at the weekend, said he “sympathised” with local illegal ravers after he decided to relocate to a smaller venue in Yarmouth after noise concerns from the local parish council.

Keith Louch, director of IML concerts, which has been organising outdoor music events in the region for the last nine years, added that the reams of red tape involved in getting a temporary public entertainment licence and NIMBYism meant that it was “very difficult” to stage legal raves in the county.

Mr Louch said the warehouse party on Saturday featuring DJ sets from famous names such as Groove Armada, Pendulum, Annie Mac, and Scratch Perverts, will be moved to The Atlantis Arena, in Yarmouth, after Costessey Parish Council objected to their licence application.

He added that noise level restrictions, hygiene regulations, electrical tests on music equipment, and the need for safety stewards and a paid police presence meant that there were very few legal raves in Norfolk.

“To organise a legal rave is very difficult because of the amount of infrastructure and the amount of regulations you have to operate. It is amazingly expensive, time consuming, and it is not guaranteed that it will go-ahead, so why not set your sound equipment up in a field?”

“There is a big demand for these sorts of legal events, but I think most people to not like the idea of raves and do not want them anywhere near them. It is like traveller sites. There is a need for them, but no one wants them anywhere near them,” he said.

Mr Louch added that cutting bureaucracy and allowing more legal raves in warehouses, barns and open areas in Norfolk would not completely stop illegal gatherings, but help reduce the frequency.

“There is an element of the illegal rave-goers that go for the illegality of the event, but allowing more legal ones will stop people from saying that they do not have anywhere to go to,” he said.

It comes after hundreds of officers were called to disperse illegal raves involving hundreds of people at Thetford Forest, near Swaffham and Feltwell over the last two weekends.

It prompted local MP Christopher Fraser to introduce a ten minute rule bill in the House of Commons yesterday to change the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

The South West Norfolk MP said police had the powers to direct those preparing for a rave away from a site, but his bill would make it an offence to organise a rave and transporting sound equipment for use at a rave.

Mr Fraser, who called for more powers to tackle illegal gatherings last year, said he would be seeking a meeting with Home Office minister Vernon Coaker after there was little sign of progress.

He told the Commons that raves were “devastating” for local farmers, residents, and the surrounding environment and wildlife.

“The countryside is not a theme park, and its residents have every right to protection under the law.

“I am sure that those who attend these unlicensed events enjoy themselves enormously, but that enjoyment comes at a very high cost to those living in the area. This is not a victimless crime. They are hugely profitable to the organisers - a 'get rich quick' formula that tramples on the rural economy,” he said.

After the Commons bill hearing, deputy chief constable Ian Learmonth reiterated Norfolk Police's zero-tolerance approach to unlicensed gatherings.

“Norfolk Constabulary is very clear that these events are completely unacceptable. The behaviour of those involved clearly constitutes serious anti-social behaviour and, in most cases, is criminal. The current legislation often frustrates policing activity due to its configuration and we certainly welcome further straight-forward powers to assist our operations,” he said.

Of the four people arrested at Sunday's rave at Feltwell, two were cautioned. A 20-year-old Essex man has been released on police bail after being arrested on suspicion of failing to stop his vehicle for police and a 17-year-old south Norfolk boy has been released on bail after being arrested on suspicion of possession with intent to supply drugs.