Leeds Festival organiser says under 18s should not be banned despite ecstasy death

The founder and organiser of the Leeds Festival has told an inquest he does not believe unaccompanied 16 and 17-year-olds should be banned from the event despite the death of a teenager who took ecstasy at last year’s event.
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Melvin Benn had to compose himself as he became emotional shortly after he began giving his evidence on Wednesday at the inquest into the death of 16-year-old David Celino.

He told David’s parents, who were sitting just a few feet in front of him at Wakefield Coroner’s Court, of his “genuine sorrow” at their son’s death.

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Mr Benn, who is managing director of Festival Republic, became visibly upset and had to take a few moments to compose himself before he revealed that he had lost a nephew to drugs.

Leeds Festival attracts around 90,000 music fans each year (pic by  National World)Leeds Festival attracts around 90,000 music fans each year (pic by  National World)
Leeds Festival attracts around 90,000 music fans each year (pic by National World)

He told the court that David’s death had “taken an emotional toll on myself and all of my staff, no question about that”.

The inquest has heard that David had gone 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.

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Yesterday, 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.

Mr Benn told the hearing on Wednesday: “It’ll be no surprise to know that I don’t believe that there should be a bar on 16 or 17-year-olds.”

He agreed there is no such prohibition at any major festival in the UK, including Glastonbury, and the coroner discussed with him some of the practical difficulties of such a move.

He said he believes 16-year-olds should be able to buy alcohol but the current law prohibiting alcohol sales for under-18s is rigidly applied at the festival.

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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.”

Mr Benn, who also organises the Reading Festival and a number of others around the country, said: “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.”

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Mr Benn said this year’s festival, which starts next week, will have a much more visible security and help presence.

David Celino died after taking ecstasy he bought on the campsite at the Leeds Festival last year. Around 90 minutes after swallowing the pill, his friends became concerned because he was unable to walk, and was shaking.

They tried to get him to the medical tent, but collapsed just outside. He was rushed to St James’ Hospital but died the next morning after he suffered multiple organ failure.

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