Brian Ferguson: Edinburgh’s Hogmanay needs rethink

Revellers create 2015 with sparklers in Princes Street Gardens. Picture: SWNS

Revellers create 2015 with sparklers in Princes Street Gardens. Picture: SWNS

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Of all the places I expected to be with an hour to go before the bells on Hogmanay, the grassy verge behind the Scottish National Gallery was not one of them.

Yet there I was scrambling around and trying to stay on my feet amid around 200 other folk who had sought refuge on the steep slope.

I witnessed dozens climbing over railings to escape a huge log-jam of revellers in front of the stage where Australian DJ Tom Loud was performing.

While the crowd on both sides of the fence was largely good-natured, many of those I spoke to were thankful to be out of a frightening situation.

I headed up The Mound after spotting a number of tweets to the official event Twitter account raising the alarm about the amount of crushing going on in the crowd – and the sight of people scaling over the spiked fence.

The most striking thing about the scene I observed – admittedly from the side of the railings outwith the arena – was a lack of police and stewards.

It was left to DJ Loud to try to keep order, with at least half a dozen messages to the crowd in the time I was there to remain calm.

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Later on, revellers could be seen scaling security barriers at the other side of the arena to get into one of the safety lines normally reserved for the emergency services.

By the time I was back down on Princes Street, I was pondering the wisdom of the decision to reduce the number of police officers working on the event this year.

The first thing to state is the appeal of Loud’s show was simply too much for a space that is traditionally a through-route for revellers.

But, as reported in these pages, 70 extra stewards were brought in by private firm G4S to make up a shortfall in the number of police officers.

This was as a direct result of a Police Scotland move to charge organisers for the first time for the services of its officers, in line with other major events.

Earlier on Hogmanay, it was clear when I spoke to Pete Irvine, the events guru behind the street party since its inception, that there is deep frustration over the rising level of health and safety costs, combined with largely standstill public funding.

All the senior figures involved in the pre-planning of the party were keen to underline how public safety was their over-riding priority, regardless of any reduction in police numbers.

But it was clear to anyone who was caught in or witnessed the scenes at the top of The Mound that something had gone wrong in the organising process.

The annual review of the event should lead to some hard thinking to avoid a repeat of those scenes next year.

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