The founder of Reading and Leeds Festivals says he doesn’t think unaccompanied 16- and 17-year-olds should be banned from the events.
Melvin Benn was speaking at the inquest of 16-year-old David Celino, who died after taking ecstasy at last year’s Leeds Festival.
Mr Benn, managing director of Festival Republic, told David’s parents at Wakefield Coroner’s Court of his ‘genuine sorrow’ at their son’s death.
He also revealed he had lost a nephew to drugs, adding that David’s death had ‘taken an emotional toll on myself and all of my staff, no question about that’.
David went to the festival, which attracts more than 90,000 people every summer to Bramham Park, near Leeds, with five friends from their homes in Worsley, Greater Manchester, in August last year.
He became ill after taking ecstasy, which his group bought from a dealer in the Camping Plus area of the festival, and died after being taken to hospital in Leeds.
Earlier this week, David’s father, Gianpiero Celino, told the inquest of his concerns that unaccompanied youngsters are left prey to drug dealers who operate like ‘the child catcher in Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ due to lax security.
But Mr Benn told the inquest there were ‘practical difficulties’ in banning 16- and 17-year-olds from festivals. No other major UK festivals, including Glastonbury, have those measures in place.
He said: ‘It’ll be no surprise to know that I don’t believe that there should be a bar on 16- or 17-year-olds.’
Mr Benn was asked by senior coroner Kevin McLoughlin about Mr Celino’s belief that ‘predatory’ drug dealers targeting teenagers is a ‘foreseeable risk’.
He replied: ‘Somehow Mr Celino’s evidence really pulled it into focus. It struck home.
‘They (teenagers) do have naivety. They do have a false sense of security. And that was put into focus by Mr Celino.
‘I have never had that focus. It’s never been quite as clear as it was yesterday.’
Mr Benn said this year’s festival, which is held over the bank holiday weekend, will have a much more visible security and help presence.
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