The theatre that never closed during the World War 2 blitz may now be forced to by an anonymous group of feminists. The Windmill International Theatre, Soho’s iconic lap dance venue has lost its licence to provide striptease, nude and lap dance entertainment following a hearing lasting several hours. Robert Sutherland looks at the decision and discusses what’s next for the venue.
Undercover investigators carried out several visits to the premises where performers had encouraged the customers to touch them intimately during performances. Even after these instances had been brought to the attention of the management, local authority officers attended and found further breaches of the licence conditions in respect of no touching. There was also evidence that door staff were bribed to look the other way and ignore the breaches. The operator indicated that they had not been aware and when they became aware action was taken to ensure there were no blind spots in the cctv coverage and to remove and discipline staff and performers who were involved.
The committee were of the view that the operator had a 100% duty to know what was going on in their premises and that they had an absolute duty to comply with all licence conditions. They were not convinced that such breaches would not occur again nor that conditions would be complied with going forward. In the circumstances they do not believe the applicant, Big Country Limited was suitable to hold a sexual entertainment venue licence and therefore the renewal application was refused.
In this case, the main objector was not the police or the local authority but an anonymous group that maintained their anonymity throughout the proceedings. The group stated they believed in women’s rights and not the objectification of women. They had arranged for the covert visits to be carried out on several occasions in October and November 2017, and based on the experience of the witnesses it was argued by the anonymous group
“The Windmill club needs to be shut down as a matter of urgency to stop the gropes, pinching and slaps and even more importantly to stop those managers who in the pursuit of profit are pressurising their dancers into lewd acts and legally speaking, are in fact encouraging the sexual assault of their dancers. These women need to be treated with respect, with restricted rights and conditions, not as pieces of meat, forced, coerced and bullied”.
As a result of the anonymous objection the local authority carried out their own investigation and found breaches of the licence to a lesser extent.
The police did not make any comment.
So what next for the Windmill Theatre?
The applicant may appeal to the Magistrates court and there would be a fresh hearing in front of the Magistrates court. Such a hearing may not take place for several months. If the committee’s decision is upheld there is a further appeal to the crown court. Again any hearing would not be several months. The appeal process may not be exhausted for between 9 and 18 months. In the meantime the premises will be able to continue to provide sexual entertainment under the licence.
This appeal will be a completely fresh hearing and will be open for the operator to establish good practices to satisfy the court that the licence and conditions will be complied with. It is also possible that another operator with a good record will take over the premises at the expense of the poor operator.