3:10pm Thursday 17th November 2011
No action should be taken against a Lancashire club where two boys aged eight and nine grappled with each other in a cage, a licensing committee was urged today.
A crowd of about 250 watched the youngsters take part in the bout at Greenlands Labour Club in Preston and many more viewed the footage which was posted on the internet and then subsequently attracted worldwide media attention.
The boys fought without headgear and complete protective padding in three two-minute rounds as one of them was seen breaking down in tears.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemned the event as "barbaric" and expressed shock at an apparent lack of restrictions on the activity, but the club today said it was not a cage fighting bout but a wrestling demonstration.
The controversy generated led to a local councillor querying whether the club had breached its licence through staging the event in September.
Paul Dixon, representing licence holder Michelle Anderson, urged Preston City Council's licensing sub-committee to "look beyond the headlines" and judge the event on what they saw for themselves on the video clip.
"You can see that the two boys did not kick, punch or otherwise strike each other.
"They were involved in a demonstration of wrestling or grappling."
He said the children were with their parents at all times and that the club itself took no money from tickets sales, which were ploughed back into the two gyms who booked the event.
Adult cage fighting contests took place later in the same ring.
Mr Dixon added a fully-accredited referee who had officiated across Europe was in charge of the demonstration and paramedics stepped into the boys' corner at the end of each round "as a matter of course".
"The two boys take part in wrestling demonstration events on a regular basis," he said.
"They know each other well and they are good friends.
"They also take part in competitive events. Was what you saw any different to a kids' karate club session or a kids' rugby game?"
He said it was "significant" that the police - who decided no criminal offence had taken place - and the local authority's child safeguarding board had chosen not to make any representations on the matter.
Mr Dixon said the club admitted that youngsters were still on the premises after 6pm and that was a licence breach if it was deemed the event was not a private function.
They argued, though, it was booked as a private event and even if they flouted the legislation it was "very trivial".
He said "no action" should be taken against the club in Chatburn Road, Ribbleton.
Councillor Pauline Brown asked: "If it is not cage fighting, then why were they in a cage?"
Mr Dixon replied that the cage itself was considered a safe environment, being a well-padded arena with a raised platform so people could watch.
Youth demonstrations regularly took place before adult fights, he said.
Councillor Mrs Bobby Cartwright questioned the appropriateness of youngsters in an environment surrounded by adults who were drinking alcohol.
"Somehow I am struggling to absorb the concept of a demonstration when there seemed to be an awful lot of hype," she said.
Earlier, the council's deputy leader, Councillor John Swindells, who called for the review, told the committee: "Children as young as eight are still very young to be placed in an adult environment such as a cage fighting arena.
"Clearly there is potential for the children taking part to be harmed during the event.
"If it was purely an adult cage fighting event I would have had no objection, but exposing children to an adult entertainment in this way could put them at risk of harm."
He said, though, he did not wish for the club to lose its licence.
"That is the last thing that area and the city needs," he said.
"Please do not revoke the licence. It is a really community-spirited place... it has a key role to play in the community."
Event organiser Steven Nightingale wrote to the committee: "As you are aware there is currently no governing body for cage fighting.
"Therefore, by putting the boys on at 5pm when the doors opened at 4pm to do their demonstration or grappling, Michelle or I have not broken any rules. Rules that cover the licensing act or rules for cage fighting.
"The boys in question have been in tournaments all over the country and have done these bouts many times. One of the boys has even won a gold medal."
The committee, sitting at Preston Town Hall, retired to consider its decision, which could range from modifying the conditions of the licence to suspending or revoking it.
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