Organisers defend ‘barbaric’ event as ‘perfectly legal’ Video footage shows children battling on the floor without head guards
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt condemns the underage contests Child safety experts call for ban and urge social work to be brought in
Police will take no action against the organisers of ‘barbaric’ cage fighting involving children as young as eight, it was confirmed today.
Concerns were raised about whether two boys were put at risk by taking part in a bout at Greenlands Labour Club in Preston, Lancashire, in front of a 250-strong adult audience.
But a spokesman for Lancashire Police said today the force had ‘looked into this matter fully and there are no issues for us to pursue’.
Kicking, shoving and grappling each other to the floor, the youngsters were filmed competing in cage fighting contests in front of a baying mob of hundreds of adults enjoying a night’s entertainment.
These shocking images show the primary school-age boys fighting with no padding, headguards or protection of any kind in what critics have described as ‘like a circus performance’.
And in a nod to adult bouts a scantily clad model parades around the ring while the youngsters wait to start fighting.
The children have been trained to wrestle their opponents into submission as their fathers, pint glasses in hand, look on.
Unlike adult contestants, they are not, in theory, allowed to punch, kick, knee or elbow each other during the competitions, but the rules are inevitably broken.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt today condemned cage fighting among children as young as eight as ‘barbaric’ and expressed shock over an apparent lack of restrictions on the activity.
‘Getting more young people doing sport is great but I do ask myself whether it really does have to be in a cage,’ Mr Hunt told the BBC.
‘It just feels to me, it feels very barbaric and I know there are concerns about children that young doing a sport like that.
‘I think if adults choose to do it, that’s one thing … I suppose I do share some of the shock that I think many of your viewers will feel.’
Asked whether he was surprised to hear there were no restrictions on children appearing in such an environment, he replied: ‘I am surprised to hear that.
‘We don’t want to discourage children from doing sport, and particularly young boys with all the social problems that we were thinking about in the summer.
‘We have to recognise that sport has a very, very important role but I think with this particular sport, I think some people will ask some questions.’
In these pictures, nine-year-old Kian MacKinson, who has been cage fighting for nine months, is shown brawling with an eight-year-old, whose father has asked for him to remain anonymous.
The boy of eight was left in tears in the middle of one of the terrifying ten-minute bouts before he was attended to by medics to check he could continue.
Last night, police said they will be investigating whether the children were put at risk.
Lancashire police said they would be looking into ‘whether there were issues surrounding the safety of children’.
A police spokesman said: ‘There is no issue with the club’s licence to stage such events.
‘However, we will be looking into whether there were issues surrounding the safety of children.
‘We were aware that the mixed martial arts night was taking place but we were not aware that children were taking part.’
The event took place on September 10 in front of 250 adults.
Appalled doctors and child safety campaigners said the lack of headguards could cause brain injury or death and called for the ‘sick and disturbing’ practice to be banned.
Rosie Carter, from the Safechild children’s charity, said: ‘This is sick, absolutely disgraceful and I would call on social services to step in.
‘I can’t believe the parents are allowing their young children to participate in this barbarity.’
Chris Cloke, head of child protection awareness at the NSPCC, said: ‘We would strongly discourage parents from letting their children take part in this kind of fighting.
‘It’s quite disturbing that some of those involved in the bouts were as young as eight, an age when they are still developing, physically and mentally.
‘The organisers of these activities should think very carefully before allowing children to be involved when they are egged on to inflict violence.’
A spokesman for the British Medical Association said: ‘Boxing and cage fighting are sometimes defended on the grounds that children learn to work through their aggression with discipline.
‘The BMA believes there are many other sports which require discipline but do not pose the same threat of brain injury.’
The event took place at the Greenlands Labour Club in Preston and was organised by joiner and professional cage fighter Steven Nightingale.
The 28-year-old said the sport is safe and growing in popularity among children.
He added: ‘Competitions start from the age of five it is definitely a big up-and-coming sport.’
Asked about the young boy who was crying during one bout, he said: ‘The kid has never been beaten before, he is the one who wins the gold medals. When they get beaten, they are going to get emotional.’
Father-of-three Nick Hartley, 33, whose nine-year-old son Kian fought at the social club, defended the event. ‘None of the children were ever in danger,’ he claimed. ‘There is no harm in cage fighting at all.
‘If he wasn’t cage fighting, he would probably be chucking stones at buses and giving people grief. But now he has learned some respect and he would rather go training than play out.’
There is no suggestion any of the bouts at the event, which took place earlier this month, breached any rules or licence laws.
Michelle Anderson, owner of Greenlands Labour Club, who attended the event, said: ‘There was nothing wrong with it.
‘The parents were there. Would people rather these kids were out on the streets with guns and knives?’
Defending her decision to stage the event she said: ‘The children were not doing cage fighting, they were just grappling, there was no punching, kicking or striking.
‘The event was perfectly legal. There was only one fight for kids, which was a demonstration fight, the other fights were for adults.’
The 39-year-old, who has run Greenlands Labour Club for the last six years and holds boxing nights there, added: ‘If you criticise this then you’ve got to ask yourself if it’s all right for kids to do boxing or judo.’
Cage fighting, also known as mixed martial arts, encompasses a wide range of martial arts which are performed in circular cages. The sport has become popular partly due to reality star Alex Reid, its most high-profile figure in the UK.