'A massive, massive conflict of interest': Does Sacha Lord have too much power?
Andy Burnham's night time economy advisor doesn't get paid for his work - but he certainly benefits from it
Good morning Millers — we promised Part 2 of our blockbuster profile of Sacha Lord at 7am on Wednesday morning and, as rarely happens when we make such promises, we have delivered.
Today’s edition contains a few thousand more carefully chosen words (each one individually approved by our legal team) about one of the most successful, influential and controversial characters in Greater Manchester.
In Jack’s first piece, which we published on Saturday, we told the story of Lord’s rise to power — how a man who “doesn’t give a fuck about music”, as one person puts it, came to dominate this city’s nightlife. In today’s piece, we tell the other side of the Sacha Lord story — how a man who didn’t seem to care about politics became a close advisor to Andy Burnham and a front-runner to be the next mayor of Greater Manchester.
“I think there’s a massive conflict of interest,” one person tells us about Lord’s role advising the mayor on the industry in which he is one of the dominant players. Other people wonder how Warehouse Project has managed to keep its licence after a series of drug-related deaths. Lord hasn’t received much detailed scrutiny from the media about these issues — until today.
First, a quick summary of the stories you need to know about today.
Your Mill briefing
Manchester City Council says it will need to borrow another £20 million to finish Factory International (sorry, Aviva Studios) due to the “volatile economic climate and the complexity and uniqueness of the building”. The cost increase is largely covered by the income from Factory International selling naming rights to Aviva and puts the final budget for the project at around £230 million, up from £110 million in 2017 when the plans were approved. “Nothing great was ever achieved without difficulty,” said deputy council leader Luthfur Rahman. Read Sophie’s recent long read: "It's vast, it's beautiful — but does anyone know what Manchester's £210m venue is actually for?”
Ryan Giggs, the former Manchester United winger accused of committing “a litany of abuse, both physical and psychological, of a woman he professed to love”, was acquitted of all charges at Manchester Crown Court yesterday. His ex-partner Kate Greville said she no longer wanted to give evidence because she felt so “worn down” and “violated” by the process, and judge Hilary Manley issued three not-guilty verdicts relating to his alleged behaviour. Last year, the trial broke down when the jury couldn’t decide on a majority verdict, and the case entered retrial this year. Giggs, 49, denied all the charges.
Nine student activists from the University of Manchester rent strike campaign have been told they have to write apology letters to the university and promise to never be involved with campus activism again after a hearing in front of the University Disciplinary Panel (UDP) found they broke health and safety regulations. Three of those activists have to take up 40 hours of unpaid work on campus, or “community service” and six must undertake fire safety training. The students occupied university buildings in protest of poor living conditions and high rent costs (Mills passim). The campaigners say they will appeal the decision and say the university “have lied to the media, used false evidence, and deliberately misled the UDP to “intimidate” students.
United Utilities engineers were in Prestwich yesterday investigating an enormous sinkhole which opened up in the middle of a residential street. The sinkhole, which was 10ft wide and sucked in several wheelie bins, is thought to be caused by a collapsed sewer. Local councillor Alan Quinn explained the underlying problem is that Prestwich is built on sand, and leaks can wash away the sand and cause the road to collapse. One resident told the Bolton News: “This has happened quite a few times, further up. Neighbours are sick and fed up with it.”
Does Sacha Lord have too much power?
By Jack Dulhanty
It was the early hours of Saturday 28 September 2013 and Nick Bonnie, a 30-year-old charity worker, was sitting in the paramedics’ tent at Warehouse Project, dying.
By this point, Warehouse Project was a world-renowned series of club nights based at Victoria Warehouse on the Trafford side of Salford Quays. For the team, it was a big jump from their previous home, on Store Street, where they hosted 2,000 ravers in a car park. At Victoria, they had space for 5,000.
No one who worked at Warehouse Project during this period seems to remember it fondly. Indeed, the company’s current operations director, Kim O’Brien, told me: “I don’t know why, [but] it always felt like it was raining in Trafford. It obviously wasn’t, but I just remembered there always seemed, like, a cloud.”
A little after 3am on that September morning, Sacha Lord — the co-founder of Warehouse Project — was saying goodbye to some of the paramedics before he left to go home. “They brought this guy in,” Lord says, remembering Bonnie being carried into the tent. He had crashed out of an emergency exit, falling directly in front of the venue’s security manager who, at Bonnie’s inquest, remembered him slumped on the ground, clammy and spasmodic.
Once in the tent, he was sitting down but kept arching his back, like someone stretching after a nap. Bonnie had taken a collection of drugs both before and during the Warehouse Project night, including almost fifteen times the recreational dose of MDMA, or ecstasy. After seeing Bonnie, Lord headed home. “That was the last time I saw Nick Bonnie, in a portacabin outside Victoria Warehouse,” he says. It wasn’t until six that morning that Lord heard he had died.
In the aftermath, it was suspected that the batch of drugs Bonnie had taken contained paramethoxyamphetamine, or PMA, a synthetic analogue of ecstasy that is much stronger and more dangerous. In response, Lord and his team, frantic to get ahead of the incoming PR storm, held a press conference at the Malmaison hotel on the dangers of PMA. Lord says he did the press conference against the advice of his press team, and the gamble didn’t pay off.
“They [the media] turned it against me,” Lord recalls, “and actually demonised us.” He got a call from his mother, who was in tears after seeing a Manchester Evening News sandwich board on Altrincham high street that read: “Super Death Club Boss Speaks Out."
It’s notable that in my conversations with Lord for this story, he seems to remember the string of deaths that have taken place at Warehouse Project and his music festival primarily through the lens of the bad publicity that followed. “You do get an absolute kicking for it,” he says when we talk about Robert Hart, a young man who died after being punched at Parklife. “And it's always the same type of people that want to give you a kicking.” At that point in our conversation, I think he senses that his answer may not be complete, and he goes on: “And yeah, I mean, I don't have kids, I can't even imagine what it is like when your kid goes to a festival or an event and don't come home.”
Last year, I went to the inquest of James Diss, a 20-year-old from Suffolk who died after taking a blend of drugs that his friends had taken into Warehouse Project. In a final statement to Diss’s parents, who joined via video link, the coroner suggested their son’s death may prevent others from doing the same. But as I wrote at the time:
The facts about young people dying at club nights like the Warehouse Project would seem to resist that interpretation. James’ life wasn’t saved by what happened to Nick Bonnie, a 30 year old from Gloucestershire who died after taking ecstasy at the Warehouse Project in 2013. Nor was it saved by what happened to James Lees, who came from Hartlepool in 2016 and whose inquest concluded that his consumption of ecstasy at the Warehouse Project contributed to him climbing to the sixth storey of some scaffolding and falling to his death. It wasn’t saved by what happened to Lauren Atkinson, from Cumbria, in 2016, who took cocaine and ecstasy at a Warehouse Project night and later died in her hotel room.
“I think the biggest, most public one, happened in 2013,” Lord says when we veer onto the topic of drug deaths. “And it was, um…”
“Nick Bonnie,” I say.
He clicks his fingers and points at me. When I meet Lord at Warehouse Project a few days later, he tells me how much he admired the fact I remembered Bonnie’s name. After that incident, Lord was asked by journalists whether he had considered closing Warehouse Project down. "We considered it,” he replied, “We spoke at length.” But the clubbing series continued and has grown vastly in size and reputation since.
Given how many hundreds of thousands of clubbers come through the event’s turnstiles — it sells more tickets each year than Glastonbury — the number of deaths might not be a great surprise. But it has made some people wonder how Lord has managed to keep his all-important licence through all of it. “How many of the venues in the country would have that kind of history and yet be operating?” one person who works in the industry asks. It’s a good question.
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial
Subscribe to The Mill to keep reading this post and get 7 days of free access to the full post archives.