‘It’s like you’re not speaking to humans’: Students decry bouncer aggression in Leamington Spa nightclubs
When Adam* was getting ready to go clubbing in Smack last December, his biggest concern was ensuring he didn’t find himself feasting on fast food by the end of the evening. This is why his friends were particularly surprised to see him being grabbed by the neck, thrown down the stairs, and hurled onto the street outside the club, only to be kicked in the back by multiple bouncers.
He notes: “I was queueing for Smack for two hours, like everyone else, when the bouncer allowed my friend to go in but denied me entry.” The next thing Adam remembers is another bouncer grabbing his neck and throwing him down the stairs. “This caused me to hit my head on the wall, which could have caused serious damage. He then (proceeded to) continuously push me and swear at me until he pushed me out the venue onto the road,” Adam recalls.
That same week, he tried attending Neon – another nightclub in the vicinity with the same owner. “I was denied entry completely, and the same bouncer (decided) to swear and push me onto the road again.”
Adam’s experience forms part of a general consensus amongst Warwick students that Leamington nightclub bouncers tend to act aggressively towards partygoers. Smack and Neon, which are the biggest student clubs in the town and attract thousands of students every week, have been accused of fostering an abusive atmosphere.
Legally, bouncers’ prerogatives extend to asking an individual to leave the venue, refusing entry if an individual is visibly intoxicated, and detaining someone who is in the process of committing a crime. Their interventions must be reasonable.
The Boar asked numerous students about their encounters with bouncers in Leamington and has found worrying trends of allegedly unwarranted violent behaviour. It has received upwards of 15 anonymous accounts of students being subject to racism, as well as physical aggression, being systematically singled out, yelled at, pushed, punched, grabbed by the neck or collar, and kicked when lying on the pavement. All students claim the attacks were unprovoked and that they were sober when they happened.
I was assaulted by the bouncers in Smack; they punched me multiple times across the head, because apparently I looked at them the wrong way
These are some of the stories students have told The Boar:
“I’ve seen a bouncer at Smack kick a girl randomly – she didn’t attack him or anything; she was just talking. And then, we approached the police car next to Neon, and the police ignored us and said, ‘he knows what he’s doing’.”
“I was assaulted by the bouncers in Smack; they punched me multiple times across the head, because apparently I looked at them the wrong way.”
“A bouncer kicked a friend and me out (of) the club after we told him to stop touching women when he was passing by us.”
“I saw a bouncer pushing a girl out of the queue at Neon – also had a case at Neon where the crowd was so dense that people were falling over each other, and the bouncer was pushing people back, making the crowd crush each other even more.”
Crowd crushes, which happen when partygoers queueing at the doors are fenced in and pushed by bouncers, happen frequently at Leamington nightclubs. In the process, people can lose their footing and fall. Tilly*, a final-year PPE student who has been going to Smack since her first year at Warwick, described what being subject to one was like: “The bouncers just pushed the person in front of me, and we all went down – I had people fall on top of me, and I scraped my elbow. They were pushing and screaming at us like we were animals.”
“It was all a bit too much, and when I wanted to leave, the bouncer started screaming at me and pushed me into the street, where I fell crying.” Later, when she called Smack to complain, she chose to remain anonymous and avoided describing the perpetrator, because she was scared he would “do something” to her.
Venue scarcity in Leamington also prevents students from speaking out, as experienced by Tilly. With there being a lack of competition within the nightclub scene, “it’s not like (partygoers) can just avoid the places with aggressive bouncers”, said Adam.
Contacted by The Boar, Warwickshire Police suggested they have received no formal complaints or reports about this phenomenon. A spokesperson said: “I’m afraid we wouldn’t be able to give a generic quote or comment based on accusations or anecdotal accounts.”
If we have a complaint from the person that was involved with the incident along with dates, times, and a description, then CCTV footage could be obtained as part of an investigation. CCTV footage is only kept for a limited time; therefore, it is important that incidents are reported as soon as possible
Elizabeth Young, the Safer Communities and Civil Contingencies Manager of the Warwick District Council, responded to requests for comment from The Boar: “Firstly I just want to emphasise that we take the safety and welfare of everyone out and about enjoying the night-time economy that Leamington offers, and to that end we have many safeguarding interventions in place working with the police, street marshals/street pastors, CCTV, licensing, Pubwatch, the Warwickshire Retail Crime Initiative, the University of Warwick, the Students’ Union, and the owners/operators of licensed premises.” She stated that the Security Industry Authority, which regulates the private security industry, conducts yearly inspections, with the most recent one having taken place in November 2023.
Young stressed the importance of reporting incidents as soon as possible for a thorough investigation: “If we have a complaint from the person that was involved with the incident along with dates, times, and a description, then CCTV footage could be obtained as part of an investigation. CCTV footage is only kept for a limited time; therefore, it is important that incidents are reported as soon as possible.”
Some students have expressed sympathy for the bouncers. One noted: “I’ve seen them break up several fights (some were quite serious as well), so I think their presence is necessary.” Others mentioned that they don’t necessarily feel uneasy due to bouncers, but that they worry about being spiked or caught in a fight.
A 2018 report conducted as part of the Warwick Students’ Union campaign ‘Going Out, Staying Safe’ centred on Leamington Spa nightclubs found that 44% of the 444 student respondents have experienced harassment on a night out. Respondents recounted instances of being followed home, homophobia, racism, sexual abuse, street harassment, spiking, and drug use. The report asserted: “An overwhelming number of students had experienced or witnessed inappropriate and aggressive behaviour from door staff, including physical assault and being followed.”
The Boar raised the issue as early as 2016, discussing experiences similar to the ones students face today. The problem has been covered consistently throughout the years, such that bouncer abuse has become common knowledge within the student body. Smack’s bouncers have also been publicly accused of making homophobic attacks.
Any person involved in such incidents as you have described would be assisted by the Safe Space Manager who would ensure the appropriate follow-up actions are taken
Leamington Spa’s new ‘Safe Space’ could mitigate the problem. Located on the Parade, the service will be open from 10pm on Fridays to 4am on Saturdays, aiding those affected by such incidents. Young suggested: “Any person involved in such incidents as you have described would be assisted by the Safe Space Manager who would ensure the appropriate follow-up actions are taken.”
Upon its opening, Councillor Jim Sinnott said: “(…) We hope that this new Safe Space will not only be somewhere to seek help if you find yourself in difficulties, but also a place to gain advice on prevention of drink spiking and other potential dangers.”
Warwick District Council has also drawn attention to the 14 ‘emergency contact points’ in the town centre and south Leamington, which provide a “direct link to (the) Warwick District Council CCTV control room”.
That being said, a sense of helplessness lingers amongst Warwick students. Adam noted: “It’s like you’re not speaking to humans, and because it’s a small town they’re able to get away with it.” When he told his friends he was pursuing the matter further with the police, he was told that it wouldn’t lead to any action: “They said Smack will just lie and say you were drunk or rowdy to justify their behaviour.”
Smack and Neon have ignored repeated requests for comment.
*not a real name