Sheffield Leadmill operators and new building owners come to blows over eviction during licence hearing

The barrister acting for Leadmill boss Phil Mills accused the new owner Dominic Madden of “arrogance” during a hearing to determine the future of the beloved Sheffield venue this week.

Last March, it was announced that The Leadmill was facing a threat of closure due to its landlord issuing a notice of eviction. The news sparked an outcry from music industry figures and gig-goers alike.

The building’s owners, Electric Group, who bought the site’s freehold in 2017, previously told music fans that they had no intention of closing the venue at the end of the current occupiers’ lease in 2023.

“The management may change but the song stays the same,” Madden, CEO and co-founder of Electric Group, wrote on Twitter at the time.

However, management at The Leadmill claimed they were being “exterminated by the landlord” before launching a fresh appeal online.

On Monday (September 18) councillors considered an application for a shadow premises licence – a second licence landlords can obtain for a premises that already operates under one – during a hearing, according to BBC News.

Per the application, the two licenses “will not operate at the same time” but would allow the landlord “to have his own licence to protect his position should the tenant do anything to put the premises licence in jeopardy”.

As Sheffield newspaper The Star reports, the barrister acting for Mills accused Madden of “arrogance” in his actions because “he knows Elton John“.

It is reported that Madden and his solicitor refuted the allegations, saying that the relationship with the Save The Leadmill campaign and Mills as chief objector had become “toxic”.

Sarah Clover, barrister for the Leadmill, said: “There is an arrogance that sits behind this application and it is evinced not least in the statement that Mr Madden has put forward to support it and it sounds a little bit like ‘I’m Dominic Madden, I know my stuff and I know Elton John so there’s no reason for me to consider the Sheffield statement of licensing policy, I don’t need to do that’.”

She went on: “Mr Madden relies pretty much entirely on his gift of the gab, his romantic theatrical back story with the Elton John soundtrack, his white knight chequebook that’s going to come in and pay for everything – and threats, which is a new tack – further defamation proceedings, even apparently for participating on this democratic process, there could be further defamation proceedings, which is ugly.”

Madden’s company Electric Group also owns Electric Brixton in London, the SWX nightclub in Bristol, and NX Newcastle. In addition, the firm owns the freehold of the Leadmill building.

The Leadmill
The Leadmill. CREDIT: Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns

In response to Clover’s comments, Madden said: “I don’t want to make light of this, in fact, I take it incredibly seriously. But I’m there, my office is [at Electric Brixton], I’m there during the evening during shows and my teams take this very, very seriously.

“The idea that we’re some sort of dodgy cowboy outfit that operates dodgy events, that pushes people in and allows promoters to oversell tickets is just nonsense.”

Madden praised the Save The Leadmill campaign but claimed it had “crossed the line” when it came to some of the tactics allegedly used in targeting him in particular: “What’s to stop them sending some kid down to Brixton and go in and write a bad review? I’m not saying they’ve done that but how do we know they haven’t?”

Madden’s company MVL Properties 2017 Ltd applied for a shadow licence to operate the Sheffield venue once it has evicted The Leadmill from the premises on Leadmill Road, where the club has operated since opening in 1980.

A shadow licence protects the rights of the landlord to continue operating licensed premises in a venue after tenants move out.

During Monday’s hearing, there was reference made to proceedings that are due to take place at the High Court in Leeds to settle commercial issues around the building.

Frazer Spooner, who was representing Leadmill staff, objected to the shadow licence application at the hearing.

He said: “The current Leadmill team is a young, driven, endlessly creative collective of minds that aren’t here just because it’s a job to do, but because we are all completely committed to delivering memories and experiences of the calibre that we have grown accustomed to as Leadmill customers.”

Spoken word artist and rapper Dominic Heslop, meanwhile, explained that he works with the venue. “The Leadmill is an integral part in our nurturing relationship between community, young people, culture, and industry,” he said.

Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker performing live onstage at the Leadmill in Sheffield
Richard Hawley and Jarvis Cocker onstage at The Leadmill in Sheffield on August 9. CREDIT: Tom Sunderland

“Their influence has enabled more creative opportunities for young people that would not ordinarily have the access.”

Heslop continued: “There is no evidence that The Electric Group has any interest or is capable of nurturing communities or young people. The well-documented incidents of violence, failure to safeguard young people, prevention of crime and disorder have been breached on numerous occasions, into serious acts of lawlessness.”

The hearing was initially scheduled to last two days but wrapped up after just one. Ahead of the meeting, crowds of people with signs and banners gathered outside Sheffield Town Hall in support of The Leadmill.

The three-member committee is currently going through all the evidence and will give its verdict at a later date.

Earlier this month, The Leadmill responded after offering £40 to volunteers to attend their rally to save the venue.

Last year saw former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn visit The Leadmill and encourage others to “get behind it”.

Elsewhere, Sheffield locals hailed the venue as “the heart of the city” while the likes of Arctic Monkeys, Jarvis Cocker and Bring Me The Horizon’s Oli Sykes are among the Steel City artists to have expressed their support.

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