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Serious security faults found at another Madrid mass-party venue

Concert descends into chaos as authorities cave into pressure to allow thousands of excess revelers to enter arena

F. Javier Barroso

Inspectors in the Madrid dormitory town of Leganés have found over 70 technical deficiencies at the local bullring, La Cubierta, where a massive New Year's Eve party was being planned. Blocked emergency exits, power generators in evacuation areas and unsafe stairways are just some of the irregularities noted in a 131-page report recommending that the facilities be closed. Mayor Jesús Gómez Ruiz of the Popular Party (PP) has already done so, town officials noted.

The move reflects widespread concerns over the safety of large public venues after the death of five young women during a stampede at a Halloween party that was oversold and lacked proper security measures. In the wake of public resignations and a judicial investigation into the case, elected officials are scrambling to ensure that facilities under their responsibility meet all technical and safety requirements.

"After the tragedy at Madrid Arena, it was the town's obligation to inspect the premises with the largest capacity in all of Leganés," said the mayor.

Leganés, 11 kilometers southwest of the capital, has already opened proceedings against the company that runs the bullring, ATE S.L., for, among other things, building bleachers in front of an emergency exit and making architectural changes that invalidate the municipal evacuation plan. The technicians also found that some of the emergency lights on the stairway were fakes, while others did not work.

Those pieces of metal would have fallen down on the street like lances"

One of the stairways had broken steps, which would have made rapid escape difficult in the event of an emergency. There was also no fire detection system on the premises.

One of the most serious deficiencies was found near the roof, where protection fences were being held together with wire and duct tape. "The moment any of these systems failed, those pieces of metal would have fallen down on the street like lances. And some of them are three to four meters long," said the mayor.

ATE S.L. now faces a fine of up to three million euros, as an inspection last year also found deficiencies that the company failed to address. Ultimately, ATE S.L. could lose the concession to run the building.

The businessman behind the fatal Halloween party, Miguel Ángel Flores, had been planning to organize the mass party at La Cubierta in Leganés, but following the tragedy, decided to drop the New Year event. That is when the bullring manager, Julio Torres, decided to go ahead and organize it himself.

Now, ATE S.L. says it will sue the town of Leganés for failing to give the company a deadline for correcting the deficiencies and shutting down the bullring immediately instead.

"This proves a clear intention on the town's part to unlawfully prevent ATE S.L. from working," said the company in a release. ATE S.L. added that it would request an external audit to confirm whether the alleged irregularities are real.

"This sine die closure means losses of over 500,000 euros for ATE S.L., which had already hired personnel for the New Year's party: DJs, security personnel, lighting, sound, etc. Over 150 direct and indirect jobs will not be created in Leganés," adds the release, saying the deficiencies could be fixed within a week.

A concert at Madrid's Vistalegre venue descended into chaos on December 21 following a miscommunication over capacity. The local authority in the Carabanchel district told police, the fire service and the Samur emergency service that 10,500 people would attend a concert by Maldita Nerea. However, the security chief in the district said that, on orders of the fire service, only 7,625 could enter.

That left thousands of ticket-holders outside the arena, causing friction with the police in place there. As tension escalated, the National Police's riot squad was called in. The furor abated when district councilor Manuel Troitiño overruled the capacity limit for the event set by fire officials, allowing all ticket-holders to enter the Vistalegre venue.

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