Dempseys, on the Moorfoot, says it has endured six years of rising crime, abuse of its door staff and even “condescending, homophobic” comments from officers – but claims South Yorkshire Police “does not care”.
In a scathing open letter to Chief Constable Lauren Poultney, owners Colin Humphreys and Kieron Lowry wrote: “We suspect that we will suffer repercussions from South Yorkshire Police because of this letter, but quite simply you have let the LGBTQ+ community down and have allowed the criminal fraternity to prosper.
"It is now commonplace for staff and customers to suffer homophobic abuse and threats of violence… This happens on an almost nightly basis but our appeals for help go unheeded.
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"You do not support our door supervisors. You are happier protecting violent criminals who have no regard for the law, and you find it easier to give them a lift home rather than arrest them."
South Yorkshire Police says it is “concerned” about issues in the letter and will contact the owners to work through them.
Read the full open letter by Dempseys and South Yorkshire Police’s full response below.
Speaking with The Star, owner Colin said: “I’m really angry. A lot of problems like this could be stopped if there was a police presence.
"They can say ‘we don’t have the resources’, but that’s not my problem – they have a duty of care.
"We are faced with homophobic attacks and abuse almost nightly. My door staff are suffering from violent crime. But we can place three or four calls to 999 and on the CCRAC radio. They take hours to arrive.
"They are more interested in giving these violent offenders a lift home than addressing the issue.
"Someone is going to get hurt. What the hell are we supposed to do?”
In the letter, Colin and Kieron say they are faced with customers carrying offensive weapons, homophobic abuse and, to date, all of their door staff have been physically assaulted.
Colin described a recent incident to The Star where a man was thrown out for hurling abuse. He was reportedly “driven home by police”, before coming back “three hours later, dressed in black with his knuckles bandaged up, carrying a mackerel tin in a sock”.
"There were no police available,” said Colin.
"When they did arrive, it was two officers who were driving past and saw a disturbance. I later heard it’s because they were only there because their way to a garage for a cup of tea.”
On another occasion, he says he was called to SYP headquarters and asked to respond to 22 criminal incidents ascribed to Dempseys since last July.
"The list was shocking and included incidents that had no relevance to our venue,” wrote Colin. “After this, we requested the full list of incidents, and to date, neither South Yorkshire Police nor Sheffield City Council have responded.”
Dempseys opened in 2000 and is one of Sheffield’s only LGBTQ+ venues.
An open letter from Dempseys to South Yorkshire Police
This is an open letter to Lauren Poultney, Chief Constable, South Yorkshire Police. We have chosen to go down this route because all our previous correspondence to your predecessors remains unanswered.
Dempseys Bar and Club has been in existence for almost twenty-two years and is one of the oldest nightclubs in the city centre as well as being the longest surviving LGBTQ+ venue. We have survived through hard work and the loyalty of our customers. We were one of the first venues to operate a membership scheme whereby customer entry is recorded and allows us to operate a safe operation.
Six years ago, we reported to South Yorkshire Police that the area around Moorfoot was being targeted by criminals engaged in drug activities and street mugging. These criminals were targeting our customers when leaving the venue. The report coincided with SouthYorkshire Police’s own warning to us that we were deemed ‘high risk’ of potential terrorist activity.
The response at that time was sympathetic, but South Yorkshire Police did nothing to address the problem.
Since then, the problem has become widespread and despite our repeated requests for support you have failed to provide any assistance.
Dempseys employs its own Door Supervisors who recognise the importance of our customers’ safety and keep unruly elements from entering the building. This task is becoming increasingly difficult because of increasing criminal activity in the area and from
lack of support from South Yorkshire Police.It is now commonplace for staff and customers to suffer homophobic abuse and threats of violence from these people. This happens on an almost nightly basis but our appeals for help go unheeded.
All our Door Supervisors have been physically assaulted and have suffered serious injury. Offensive weapons and knives are now a threat, but more alarmingly is the fact that South Yorkshire Police does not care.
The venue is obliged to subscribe to Sheffield City Council’s CCRAC radio network which links the venue with city centre CCTV operators. The network also allows us to request police assistance when necessary. There is no CCTV coverage outside our venue whichmakes the CCTV operators’ task more difficult, and all our requests for the police are rejected because no officers are available. On these occasions we must resort to calling 999 and have been met with the same response.We might add that when criminal activity occurs outside our opening hours, we are regularly asked to provide footage from our own external CCTV cameras.
Last year, we were invited to South Yorkshire Police headquarters and asked to respond to concerns that we had had 22 incidents since reopening from lockdown last July. The list was shocking and included incidents that had no relevance to our venue. After this, we requested the full list of incidents, and to date, neither South Yorkshire Police nor Sheffield City Council have responded. At this meeting, you informed us that organised crimes were operating in the area, something that we had told you about six years ago.
Your solution to the problem was to suggest that we closed earlier and then the criminals might go away. Our response to that is that you will merely move them somewhere else.In recent weeks we have had several people threatening staff with offensive weapons, including one incident where a male threatened to cut the throat of a member of staff. We have suffered a break-in which the intruder was apprehended but released because youfailed to attend and have chosen not to investigate it. During checks for COVID passes a Door Supervisor was head-butted by an aggressive male, an incident witnessed by your officers, and your response was to tell the injured member of staff that they had to be “more sympathetic.”These are just a few of the appalling stories that we are blaming South Yorkshire Police for.Finally, and more serious to our colleagues, is the behaviour and attitude of some of your police officers. Not all of them, because there are some fine officers out there. On the rare occasions that police officers do visit then we are sometimes subjected to condescending comments with some bordering on threatening and homophobic. You do not support our Door Supervisors, you are happier protecting violent criminals who have no regard for the law, and you find it easier to give them a lift home rather than arrest them.You will respond by saying that the number of police officers available has been affected by budget cuts. We fully appreciate this, but as a business we are entitled to operate on a level playing field.We suspect that we will suffer repercussions from South Yorkshire Police because of this letter, but quite simply you have let the LGBTQ+ community down and have allowed the criminal fraternity to prosper. – Colin Humphreys and Kieron Lowry
In response, Chief Constable Lauren Poultney said:
"Although I have not yet had direct contact from Mr Humphreys and Mr Lowry, I recognise and value their presence within Sheffield’s night time economy. I understand the last two years has presented numerous challenges for all of Sheffield’s bars, pubs and clubs including Dempseys.
“I am concerned about a number of issues Mr Humphreys and Mr Lowry raise in their letter and I will ensure we make contact with them to discuss these in more detail, prior to them being investigated.
“They are right to raise concerns about CCTV in the area – it does need to be improved – and a Sheffield officer is working on this at the moment. We do already have the venue factored in to our patrol plans with a view to preventing crime in the city centre in addition to ensuring the door staff feel more supported and there is an increased officer presence at the venue.
“We are committed to working with all our licensed premises in Sheffield, including Dempseys, to provide a safe and welcoming night time economy.”