THE founder of Mutiny Festival has told of his devastation at the deaths of two young festival-goers, but said: ‘Nothing compares to what Georgia and Tommy’s parents are going through.’
Organiser Luke Betts spoke to The News in the wake of the deaths of Georgia Jones, 18, and dad-of-one Tommy Cowan, 20, who both fell ill at Mutiny Festival amid a warning about a ‘bad batch’ of drugs at the Portsmouth festival.
Georgia’s mum, Janine Milburn, said her daughter had taken two ‘pills’.
Critics have said not enough was done at the festival, both to stop drugs getting in, and looking after people at the King George V Playing Fields site.
But Mr Betts has hit back, saying his team and contractors went ‘above and beyond’ the requirements set by the event’s licence.
We’re devastated. It’s nothing compared to what I imagine Georgia Jones and Tommy Cowan’s parents are going through.Luke Betts
The 31-year-old, who wept as he talked about the deaths, said he was devastated.
‘We’re devastated, we’re all in shock,’ the Guildhall Walk Astoria nightclub owner said.
‘Our team is in shock but I think it’s one day at a time.
‘It’s nothing compared to what I imagine Georgia Jones’ and Tommy Cowan’s parents are going through right now.
‘That’s where my heart is at the moment. That’s why I hope to get to see them.’
Mr Betts said he will ‘fully support’ an investigation into the festival by Portsmouth City Council.
No decision has been made about the festival’s future.
Asked if the festival had grown too big and too fast since it began at Victoria Park, in Portsmouth, in 2014, Mr Betts said: ‘Definitely not.
‘Everything we did at the weekend just gone was in the interest of keeping people safe. We went above and beyond with the measures required of us.
‘I think everything we did, the cancellation on Sunday, shows how serious we take safety.’
Mr Betts, who started out as a club night promoter at 18 while still a University of Portsmouth student, wept as he said: ‘We unfortunately, this weekend, joined that awful fraternity of festivals that have had this happen.’
His team has more than 100 years’ combined experience in music events, he said, but added: ‘Nothing takes away from how devastating this weekend has been.
‘Nothing can prepare you for that.’
The 2017 festival saw an ‘increase in drug use’, police said in a report. The 2015 event at Fontwell, West Sussex, was criticised by Sussex police.
But Mr Betts said the staging of the 2016 festival in Cosham showed the festival, which he said was for ‘people on our own doorstep’, was not getting worse.
And he said his priority was meeting with both Tommy’s dad Damian Cowan, who has criticised the festival for not contacting him, and with Georgia’s mum, in person.
Mr Betts said he has tried through police to contact the families and hopes to speak with them soon.
The News asked about concerns money was put first, and about the provision of security. Both issues were raised by Tommy’s dad Mr Cowan, 43, of Leigh Park.
Asked if money was the main focus, raised in the wake of criticism over access to water, Mr Betts said: ‘If it was about the money we wouldn’t have shut down Sunday with no regard to the commercial position whatsoever. That’s all I can say.’
He added there were 21 water taps across the site and welfare teams had water available.
Mr Betts added: ‘The security was provided by an internationally-recognised and accredited company with the best possible credentials.
‘They do a great job, and worked hand-in-hand (with welfare). We had 20 plus security more than we were required to – signed off by police.’
The festival previously said it had 175 security and crowd management staff, 20 more than required. Contractor TTK Welfare’s Linda Krawecke said it handed out water and looked after people.
Mr Betts said the event was ‘probably too strict with bags’ if anything, as none bigger than A4 size were allowed in, and man bags were banned.
He said there were sniffer dogs on the gates to the festival and people caught with drugs were ‘categorically no way’ allowed into the music event, which saw Dizzee Rascal and Pete Tong perform on Saturday.
Photos on social media purported to show empty condoms allegedly used to smuggle drugs into the festival.
‘People are putting things inside them, to an extent I recognised that if you want (to bring in drugs), whether it be to an event or festival, we put our hands up to say that can be done,’ Mr Betts said.
‘At the same time if drug dogs are detecting that, we are going to take those people and the next level of search is going to be thorough.’
Mutiny cancelled Sunday’s line-up following the deaths as a ‘safety precaution’.
‘All we cared about was keeping people safe,’ Mr Betts said.
‘Sunday was shut down with no thought or regard to any commercial considerations – we wanted to keep people safe.’
‘That’s what came first.’