On Sunday 28th of August 2016 I left home at 9.00 p.m to make a 3 hour round trip to pick up my daughter and her three friends from Leeds Festival. I was totally unprepared for the chaos I was about to encounter. It was one of the most traumatic experiences I have ever had.
Any reasonable person would assume that the drop off point for festival goers would be the pick up point so that’s where I headed at 9.00 p.m expecting a 10.30 p.m arrival time. The event ended at 11.00 p.m
At 11.p.m I was met by a police road block and was diverted to a route which differed from the one I took when I dropped my daughter off. I was then lost in narrow dark lanes with no signs wondering where to go next.
I joined the traffic flow making gut instinct decisions until I came to another police road block. I got out of the car and walked to the head of the queue of cars. I heard a distressed mother asking the police officer why they had changed the route as her 16 year old son was on his own, wondering where she was. She also assumed that that drop off would be the same as the pick up point. I explained that I was in the same predicament and asked the officer who had made the decision to change the road layout which worked fine on drop off day and why no signs? He did not know. He said there were 60000 cars to deal with than night.
The police officer said that pick up was the Red Car Park. We explained that there was in fact, more than one Red Car Park. We had seen this at drop off, so which Red Car Park was it? He did not know. I asked him how I was supposed to communicate the pick up point to my daughter. He said she should ask the stewards.
I was now becoming very anxious and concerned for my daughter. I had no idea where I was, where I would end up as the roads had been blocked along the route I took when dropping her off. I could not communicate clear information to my daughter waiting in a field somewhere. I called her to tell her to find Red Car Park and to ask a steward in which Red Car Park the pick up was. She said there was no one around to help or ask, ‘literally no one’ were her exact words.
Why the confusing change of road layout which worked perfectly well for drop offs?
Why no signs to help drivers locate the drop off point and clear signs as to which Red Car Park is was? Why more than one Red Car Park in the first place as this is bound to cause confusion? Why were no stewards around to help and guide people? Why were the police not better informed?
I continued on and joined a slow moving queue of traffic which I hoped and prayed led to the car park where I would find my daughter. The traffic was stationary most of the time. I called my daughter constantly to reassure her and to encourage her to try to find the correct pick up car park. I had no idea where I was, where the road led and how long I would be.
Mud covered young people began to trickle and then flood along the narrow, dark lane so I assumed I must be in the correct place. At times they blocked the road as there were so many of them and there were no footpaths in the lane leading to the pick up point. People were appearing from all directions, out of the hedges and climbing over fences. I assume they were trying to find their way to vehicles waiting for them in the long queue. Cars that had picked up passengers began to make U turns to leave the queue. Many people were now sitting on the edge of the road while the vehicles made difficult manoeuvres, waiting for their transport to arrive. One young girl slipped and fell in the grass verge whilst on the phone to someone. It was total chaos and endangered peoples lives.
I arrived at a yellow sign stating ‘pick up’ 400 yards. It still did not say which car park. I called my daughter to reassure her that I was near. My daughter informed me that she found a person to ask and there were red and brown car parks. The person didn’t know which car park was the pickup point. I told her to go to the red one as I assumed (hoped and prayed) it would be that one. By now there were even more people sitting all along the edge of the narrow dark lane a few centimetres from cars. How the police allowed this is a question which needs to be asked of them as peoples lives were in danger.
1.45 a.m I arrived at a sign stating 200 yards from pick up point with still no communication as to which car park it was.
2.00 a.m I finally turned into the car park.
I was absolutely horrified by what I saw.
The small track leading to the field was a muddy skid pan. There were large groups of young people sitting, lying and walking at the edge. One young ‘steward’ pointed me in the general direction of a dark muddy field crammed with cars in no particular order with people sitting and lying on the ground between them.
I had no idea where I was or how to find my daughter. By now she had been waiting for three hours. She did not know where she was and I had no reference points to guide her. She repeatedly said there is no one here to help, ‘literally no one to ask’. She eventually found that she was in Red Car Park 2. I had found one small pathetic post saying Red Car Park One. I went to the post and eventually she found me after carrying her huge rucksack, tent and a bag of muddy clothes some distance from Red Car Park 1. Several young people had the same plan and called parents to guide them to the post. Frantic parents held torches and phones in the air to guide their children to them. The scene was like a refugee camp with muddy, bedraggled bemused people some as young as 16 sitting lost, hopeless and dejected.
Several people got out of their cars to try to establish what was happening. I spoke to a young woman steward who told me that she had been working on the festival for 9 years and ‘it is like this every year’. She was supposed to be working a 7 a.m to 7 p.m shift but was still working at 3.30 am as there were no staff. She said it was even worse on Monday.
NOTE in all this chaos there were just three ‘stewards’, exploited young people no doubt, doing their best, for a free ticket most likely. They were situated one at the entrance to the field i.e Red Car Park 1, pointing cars to the hayhem to pick up children, one guarding a fence between a neighbouring field so that desperate drivers did not cross the barrier into the quagmire to join the exit queue and get stuck. One young steward, poor thing, stood at the merging point of the main car park and the mass of hundreds of disorganised cars from the pick up point trying to join the exit queue. (See over head helicopter shots).
Two young girls approached me in tears asking where the yellow camp was. They explained they had been walking round for two hours trying to find the buses. They had been directed ‘round in circles’ for two hours. They were eventually told that all the buses had left. They had no idea how they would get home to Liverpool. One girl said she wanted to throw herself in front of a car to be taken out in an ambulance. Imagine if that was YOUR daughter. There were absolutely no signs to direct people or stewards to ask. This begs the question what would have happened in an emergency. Surely there are regulations in place for emergency vehicle access?
A taxi driver explained that he had been trapped in the car park for four hours and lost his nights business. Another young woman tried to find her taxi in the mass of cars which she had paid for through the festival at the cost of £100. She showed me a wrist band she had been given to show the taxi driver. She said that if she could not locate her taxi she would have to pay £100 for another and that it would have been quicker for her husband to come and get her from Anfield. She said she would never come to Leeds again.
Those fortunate enough to have 4 x 4 vehicles jumped hedges into the quagmire in order to reach the traffic flow.
As time passed more and more cars were allowed into the field. This added even more cars to the ever increasing mass of vehicles trying to exit. The field was at a standstill. No more cars could get in. The cars exiting were mostly from the main car park which I discovered by walking to the merge point. To my amazement the main car park also fed into the single track exit!
It was now 3.30 am and I had been stuck in the Festival traffic and now the field for over 4 hours with no sign of any movement. I anticipated that we would not leave the car park until 6.00 a.m at the earliest and arrive home at approximately 8.00 am and told my daughter’s friends to inform their parents of the situation. In fact, in reality could not see how the situation would ever be resolved as more and more people arrived to pick up passengers and more and more of those parked in the main car park decided to leave. And no cars were moving in the pick up field.
Thankfully, a driver threw down the metal barrier into the muddy field which the steward had been guarding and a few of us decided to take our chances in the mud.
Luckily (I have winter tyres on my car) I made it and joined the exiting traffic flow. Several vehicles became stuck in the mud at this point. Heaven knows what happened after that. It took me 4 and a half hours to get out of the site and behind me were thousands more cars in both the main car park and the pick up field queuing to get out.
There were hundreds of young people still waiting in the dark muddy field at 3.30 a.m the morning for their parents to even reach the field. They had no water, no food, no toilet facilities, no stewards to help, no first aid and no access for emergency vehicles and no shelter.
It was and is unbelievable to me how this could be allowed to happen.
The narrow public road leaving the site was thick with mud for a very long distance. Despite driving as slowly as possible I felt the wheels slip several times. Young people were walking and sitting beside this skid pan in the dark at 3.30 in the morning. It was extremely dangerous and a terrifying experience.
I then had to drive home in the early hours ironically passing the ‘Don’t Drive Tired’ signs on the motorway! We arrived home after nine hours at approximately 5.30 a.m It should have been a three hour round trip.
The organisers of this festival Republic Ltd whose MD is Melvin Benn of T in the Park infamy, made over three million in profit last year. Yet they treat their customers with such contempt. If one researches this, it is a situation which has been going on for some time. There are youtube videos from 2006 showing the terrible car park situation.
I would like to ask the relevant people some questions about how aware they are of what happened and if not why are they not aware? If they are aware they clearly do not care about the dangers the young people and others faced. I would like someone to explain how this event has a licence for I understand, over 90000 participants when clearly the infrastructure does not support it. These include Leeds Council, Leeds Police who could see exactly what was happening both on the ground an in the air, the land owners – the Lane Foxes, The directors of Festival Republic, Health and Safety Executive and so on.
Once I have their responses I intend to take the matter up with my MP and to ask some questions of the Government about this fiasco and on a wider issue, why festivals like this are allowed to exploit young people both as unpaid workers, unpaid bands and as customers. Why they are allowed to grow larger every year when clearly they have no regard for the safety of the young people who attend them once they have finished spending money inside the festival?
I love festivals and we have attended two this year: Nos Alive in Portugal with a 55000 capacity which was impeccably run and managed and ArcTanGent run by the 2000 Trees Team which was superb in every way. So it can be done properly.
Melvin Benn is the MD of Festival Republic and is allegedly fixing T in the Park which had the same transport problems in 2015. I would like to ask him where he was on evening/morning of 28th -29th August 2016 as he was not addressing the transport problems at Leeds Festival which are exactly the same as those at T in the Park. He cannot possibly be unaware of the problems at Leeds Festival.
What would have happened if it was raining at the time? Many of the young people were in shorts and vests. Many had consumed alcohol. They would have been drenched along with the contents of their bags and rucksacks, stuck for hours in a dark, cold field with, as I have already stated, no help, no first aid, no food, no water, no toilets and no shelter. Even more cars, most likely the majority, would have become suck in mud. Hardly bears thinking about.