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Violence could close rock venue

THE FUTURE of Le Palais, the rock venue in Hammersmith that has twice been the scene of violence in recent months, is to be decided at a meeting of the local council next month.

After the pitched battle between frustrated fans and police last Sunday, which culminated in widespread looting of neighbouring shops, Clive Soley, the local MP, has called for the closure of the venue unless public order can be guaranteed at future events.

Councillors in Hammersmith are compiling evidence from witnesses of last Sunday's riot outside the performance by the American rap band Onyx. Police, who say that they had not been warned of possible disturbances, called in colleagues in riot gear, an armed-response vehicle and dog units after 700 fans who could not get in to the concert tried to force their way in. Bottles, bricks and cans were thrown, windows were smashed and shops looted. Seventeen people were arrested and six officers received minor injuries.

The Palais de Danse, as it was known in 1919 when it opened, was the first place in Britain at which a jazz band played. Seventy years on, it's a bit of a come-down to discos, ragga and street violence.

The venue is developing a reputation for trouble. Last Thursday, up to 300 people were involved in scuffles with police at the close of a disco and five were arrested. On Easter Monday, a man was shot with a high-calibre handgun at a ragga concert. The gunman has not been caught.

The capacity of Le Palais is 2,230 but Rank Leisure, its owner, says it deliberately sold only 2,000 tickets for the Onyx concert to 'allow a bit of elbow room'. Under its licence, Le Palais must not oversell capacity and must print all tickets for each show. These must be numbered, and Rank must have a printer's receipt for the tickets, which must be defaced at the point of use and the fans must be counted in.

If the Council finds that any of these conditions have been infringed, Rank's licence will be at risk. Police are trying to establish why 700 people turned up for a concert that was already sold out.

Promoters refuse to hold back tickets to sell 'on the door' because of the financial risk involved if these do not sell. They also argue that if it were known that tickets were available at the door, the number of people turning up would be even greater - and so would the likelihood of trouble.

Simon Moran of the SJM promotion agency said that groups could not be expected to finance advertising that concerts had sold out. At some concerts there could be trouble whether there was a sell-out or not. Onyx promote an aggressive image - appearing on the cover of their latest record carrying Uzi sub-machine-guns.

'If it was a sell-out of an indie band at a student gig there'd be no chance of a riot,' said Mr Moran, who has promoted two dates this year for Cypress Hill - 'the biggest rap act in the world' - with no sign of trouble.