Bouncers are hired as a deterrent against alcohol-induced chaos in nightclubs. But do they provoke more trouble than they prevent?
It was just like any other night, free flowing alcohol, scantily clad girls, speakers pumping out the latest house anthems. It was mid-July 2013, a humid summer evening. My friends and I had embarked on a night out in our hometown, Guildford, Surrey to celebrate our return from universities dotted around the country.
At the end of the night, I vaguely remember talking to a group of people outside the local kebab shop, where everyone was consuming their favourite post-bender snack. I have very little recollection of any other events that night but I do recall drifting in and out of consciousness as I was being wheeled through the hospital – wait a minute, the hospital? What was I doing here?
As I am told, I was in high spirits, despite the fact I had just stumbled backwards over the top of a twelve foot wall and broken both of my wrists, a cheekbone, my pelvis along with a collapsed lung, just for good measure. I heard my Mum sobbing and my Dad trying to keep calm; admittedly, a hard task given the fact I could have broken my neck had I fallen at any other angle.
Now, you may be reading this thinking that I had simply fallen from the wall in a drunken stupor; or been pushed by a fellow reveller but no; this was the ‘work’ of nightclub doorstaff; bouncers. Bouncers who are supposed to be there to protect people from harm, not cause it.
As the saying goes “The best bouncers don’t ‘bounce’ anyone…they talk to people” but on entering a nightclub, many clubbers would struggle to attribute this quote to any of the imposing figures surrounding the room. The stereotypical idea of a bouncer is shaven-headed, steroid-fuelled, wearing furious, unforgiving expressions on his face. Chillingly, former bouncer Levi Bellfield, murderer of Surrey schoolgirl Millie Dowler, fits that description entirely. So are they really just thugs in uniform?
Off-duty bouncers Sean Warne, 25, and 28 year old Lee Bunker assaulted musician Chris Good in Plymouth, causing severe facial bruising, a court in the city heard last month. Warne had sworn at Good’s girlfriend on a night out and Good had intervened, only to be overpowered and ultimately sickeningly knocked unconscious by the pair. With regards to this, a quick glance through Twitter reveals that bouncers are definitely not popular people. I have been regularly using the search term ‘bouncers’ over the past few months and I would probably struggle to count the positive tweets that have been posted on one hand.
Portsmouth University student Lewis Beadell, 19, disagrees meanwhile, admitting, “I’ve been kicked out of clubs loads of times. Probably nine times out of ten I’m too drunk to realise what I’m doing and I feel stupid the next day; but there are times when bouncers just don’t like the look of me, I guess.”
Bad reputations spread by word of mouth as the Business student admits; “It’s easy to stereotype bouncers if you have had a bad experience but I think that most of them are ok, if I’m honest.” However, he added “They don’t exactly have a challenging job, so I don’t understand how some of them get it wrong.”
Since my accident, I have been drawn into watching the Channel 4 documentary of the same title, Bouncers. Now, despite having been clubbing countless times and seeing plenty of stern-faced bouncers, I can honestly say that I have never seen anything like what I saw here. One of the featured bouncers is Curtis who, on first impression, looks like a normal guy just doing the normal job of a bouncer. But when club-goers start to abuse him, he doesn’t ignore them; he returns the abuse and shockingly offers them a fight; not exactly giving a positive view of an already persecuted section of society to a wider audience, is it?
But as I continued to watch the programme, my initial prejudice towards bouncers swayed somewhat. Alex is a young bouncer, in his first job working in Colchester, Essex on, what Channel 4 call, “a one-man mission to prove that bouncers are diplomats, not brawlers.” Having never been involved in a fight, most would call the 25-year-old unsuitable for the job; yet the same people would complain when they are forcibly ejected from a club.
As part of my research, I found that the in city of Nottingham there were an astounding 261 complaints about doormen in the city over the last three years; as reported by the Nottingham Post in 2012. In addition to this, last year alone, police received 93 reports of crimes where a doorman was accused of being the offender, compared to 36 where they were listed as a victim. Now, I understand it is a university city and one must expect some ‘incidents’ to take place, but almost one-hundred reports in just one year is truly shocking.
Alarmingly, wannabe bouncers can obtain the required SIA (Security Industry Authority) Door Supervision Licence after attending just four days of training for a one-off fee of a mere £240. A spokesman for DGL Services, based in Beacon Hill, Surrey, explained, “The course covers working as a Door Supervisor and conflict management which is mainly theoretical and also ‘physical intervention’ which is only moderately strenuous and is easily completed by people from all walks of life with varying degrees of fitness.”
So the training doesn’t encourage bouncers to be violent in carrying out their duties, but the SIA Code of Conduct doesn’t discourage it either, other than demanding that all criminal convictions be reported in writing.
However, bouncers are directed to use ‘reasonable force’ when intervening in a violent situation; something that is undefined and seemingly misinterpreted by many. In the most extreme examples, clubbers have lost their lives at the hands of bouncers. This was the case in 2009 when a 21 stone bouncer restrained rowdy Manchester clubber, Julian Webster, 24, in an, ultimately fatal, ‘headlock’ for ten minutes. At the inquest, Martin Dowd admitted that he had never been trained in ‘appropriate restraint techniques’ over his ten-year career as a bouncer.
This is not so in a few high-profile cases, though, as a number of respected celebrities have previously ‘graced’ nightclub entry points including actors’ Vin Diesel and Patrick Swayze; and, as it was startlingly announced earlier this month, the current head of the Catholic Church, Pope Francis who earned money whilst studying in his homeland, Argentina.
Bouncers in South Shields on Tyneside are being given ‘Safe Haven’ training which encourages them to ‘assess triggers of vulnerability’ in drinkers to ensure their safety. Speaking to the Shields Gazette, Cllr Tracey Dixon of South Tyneside Council said, “We want people to come to South Shields and enjoy their night out, but we also want people to stay safe.” This idea will clearly improve the reputation of bouncers and could change people’s outlook if made compulsory.
Soon-to-be former bouncer Sean Peters, 47, based in Hampshire, explained how he was introduced to the trade just as it was becoming licensed under the Private Security Industry Act in 2001, “I knew there was some dodgy business beforehand and I think some of the ‘old school’ guys passed on some bad advice.”
“Obviously now there’s the training that you’ve got to do, but I’ve still seen some things that shouldn’t be happening on a night out, especially with bouncers.” Nonetheless, Peters admits that he hasn’t been “squeaky-clean” in his 14-year career on the doors, “Sometimes you just lose it; luckily with me it takes a lot of aggro[vation]. The other day there was a lad calling a girl he was interested in a ‘slut’ just because she had a boyfriend; that’s the sort of people we have to deal with.”
He went on to condone bouncers who inflict violent outbursts on clubbers, saying, “By becoming a bouncer and starting fights after, or during work, you are just asking for trouble. If you want to fight people then that’s up to you but don’t put yourself in the spotlight; it’s ridiculous and I regret what I did in the past.”
Another example of bouncers being seen in a positive light is again in Nottingham where, in October this year, a number of nightclub doormen put their lives on the line in attempting to break up a brawl that led to three people being stabbed and subsequently hospitalised. These kind of scenes are thought provoking and infuriating in that it poses the question, why aren’t they all like this?
Part-time barman, Jack Williams leapt to the defence of bouncers when questioned, saying, “I’ve know a few people who work on the doors around Guildford and what they have to put up with is mental. I’m not surprised some people get hurt; there’s so many idiots.” The 23 year old, who couples his bar work with a junior administrative position, added, “They are there to help people, and I wish people respected them just a bit more.”
To this day, I am still not fully aware of what truly happened to me that night but what I do know is that they had chased me along a road and I had cornered myself in a raised car park. I saw them coming towards me and hurriedly tried to camouflage myself in the nearest shrubbery. Sadly for me, there was scarcely any greenery in which to hide myself and, henceforth I plummeted to the concrete below.
But what if they had got me? If they were that enraged with me when I hadn’t even seen them previously, what would they be like when provoked? It doesn’t bear thinking about.