Case Studies

Spiking report

by Mark Rowe

Pub and club venue staff need better training on recognising drink spiking victims and on how to treat them with respect, according to the Home Affairs Committee of MPs in a report.

The Committee chair, Labour Hull MP Dame Diana Johnson said: “Spiking is an insidious act. Victims will often have little idea of what has happened, who spiked them, when it occurred or what has been put in their system. They are left with feelings of self-doubt and vulnerability. Yet, while the threat is well known, little has been done to prevent it from happening. There needs to be a concerted effort to stamp out spiking. Much more work needs to be done to improve understanding and awareness so that people are reassured that the help will be there should they need it. They need to know that they will be taken seriously and action taken.

“It isn’t good enough to tell people to put lids on their drinks or normalise taking a testing kit out with you. Everyone should have the right to go out and enjoy themselves without fear. The message needs to be sent to perpetrators that spiking is absolutely unacceptable and will be punished.”

Shortage

The report points to ‘a particular shortage of female security operatives’ on doors. MPs suggest that young women, who are often most vulnerable to spiking, may feel less comfortable confiding in male security staff than females. The report blames a ‘practical limitation on searching capacity’ on the shortage of security staff in the night-time economy, ’caused by factors such as low wages, poor conditions, the pandemic and the UK’s exit from the European Union’.

As for how the problem resonates with the pub and club-going public, the report notes an e-petition ‘to make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry’, received over 175,000 signatures and was thus debated by Parliament last year.

Paul Fullwood, Director of Inspections and Enforcement at the UK regulator the Security Industry Authority (SIA) was among those who gave evidence to the MPs in January.

Among its recommendations, the MPs’ report call on the Home Office to ensure that reporting and information gathering is improved, for counter-measures to be effective. As for whether spiking ought to be a specific offence, the MPs say that victims would be more likely to come forward to report cases if they were reassured that it was a criminal act that would be prosecuted. Similarly, perpetrators would be sent a clear message that such behaviour will not be tolerated and result in severe penalties.

Venues such as pubs and nightclubs, where spiking may happen, must do all they can to ensure that they are safe spaces, the MPs say, and call on the Government to consider setting up a support package to help venues give security training. Local licensing authorities should be using their powers to regulate the night-time economy’s response to spiking. Forensic testing for potential spiking victims is poor and will need to be improved if the police are to have evidence to investigate and prosecute, the report adds. The few successful prosecutions for spiking offences means there is no clear deterrent, MPs point out.

The report urges ‘improved education and awareness around spiking’. As part of a national communications campaign to say “Enough” to violence against women and girls, the Government should engage with the night-time industry, the education sector, and the health sector to produce a national anti-spiking communications campaign, the MPs say.

You can read the report on the UK Parliament website.

Comment

For the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC), Joint Leads for the APCC’s Addictions and Substance Misuse Portfolio, PCCs Joy Allen (who was among those giving evidence to the MPs) and David Sidwick, said: “The report includes several recommendations that could bring improvements to the way spiking incidents are reported and investigated, such as improved data collection by police forces, better access to forensic testing, and development of a national anti-spiking strategy to promote best practice.

“Alongside other measures, we agree that the creation of a separate criminal offence for spiking would send a clear message to perpetrators that this behaviour is not acceptable and could encourage victims in coming forwards to report incidents.

“We will consider this report and its recommendations as part of our ongoing work, which includes engaging with national policing partners, the night-time economy and other organisations on a coordinated response to tackle spiking, identify offenders and support victims.”

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