Drink spiking crackdown: What to do if you think you've been targeted

EMBARGOED TO 2230 SATURDAY DECEMBER 16 File photo dated 09/10/2020 of drinks. Plans to modernise spiking laws will be set out in the coming days, the Government has said. Issue date: Saturday December 16, 2023.
Police forces are holding a 'week of action' to crack down on spiking. Credit: PA

By James Hockaday, ITV News Multimedia Producer

As police across the country step up patrols this week in a bid to crack down on drink spiking, staff in bars, pubs and clubs are also remaining vigilant for potential offenders.

On Thursday, Home Secretary James Cleverly said perpetrators would be "held to account" by proposed legislation that would make spiking a stand-alone offence – removing any sense of ambiguity from the law.

Police forces are receiving 561 reports of spiking per month, according to National Police Chief's Council (NPCC) figures, but the issue is notoriously hard to collect data on as it often goes unreported.

Speaking to ITV News, Michael Kill, chief executive of the Night Time Industries Association, said that while the hospitality industry has made great progress in training staff and investing security "there's still a lot of work to do".

Over the past few years, during which many more stories about people being spiked have been reported by the media, Mr Kill says bar staff and bouncers have been making efforts to ask a lot more questions if they have concerns.

Watch: ITV News hears from pubgoers about their concerns over spiking, the precautions they take, and why they might still be reluctant to go to the police for help

"What people are being asked to look out for is people who are vulnerable, people who are incapacitated, people who are not with their friendship group, people buying excessive drinks – there are lots of warning signs for people to look out for," he says.

"Security are looking out for lone women leaving with people, they might ask questions on exit, like ‘are you okay? Do you know this person? Are you okay getting home?’

"There’s a lot of work around duty of care. A lot of venues are considering welfare officers, whose are just focused on looking after people."

Despite this, Mr Kill warns that there are still many unknowns about spiking, particularly as it is also taking place at house parties, university halls, and other places outside his industry's control.

"The industry are taking it now very seriously...more security, CCTV, a lot more investment... “But we still don’t understand the full impact yet… there’s still a lot of work to do. They need to get the profile and the characteristics of this crime to really understand it."

Watch: Colin Mackie, founder of anti-spiking charity Colin Mackie, tells ITV News how tougher penalties and more prosecutions are really needed to make significant change

Underreporting is one reason why data on spiking can be so murky, with many drugs used for this purpose leaving the body within 12 hours.

Some people ITV News spoke to enjoying their night out in central London said they'd be hesitant to contact the police, fearing they'd either wouldn't take it seriously or simply wouldn't have the capacity to take action.

"I wouldn't be sure how long a process like that would take, and I'd not want to be taken not seriously, I wouldn't want to go and say something and then have the police say 'I don't know about that'," one pubgoer said.

The NPCC suggests "harmful myths and stereotypes" can also prevent victims from coming forward, which is partly why all forces in England and Wales are taking part in a "national week of action" this week.

Early reporting and police forensic testing is key, which is why forces have been working with licensed venues to train bar staff in how to handle spiking in their premises.

Neighbourhood officers have also visited town centres and universities to encourage people enjoying nights out to be vigilant to the symptoms of spiking and report it to police straightaway, should it happen to them or a friend.

Watch: Home Secretary James Cleverly vows that perpetrators of spiking 'will be held to account'

A number of forces have received dedicated funding from the Home Office to further boost operational activity, including Leicestershire Police, whose increased patrols are taking place in busy town centres and licensed venues.

Humberside Police, where plain clothed officers will patrol at night to gather intelligence on potential suspects and offenders, has also received additional funding.

West Mercia Police has also been given extra money, as it runs a targeted campaign is encouraging people to report information about individuals suspected of being involved in spiking.

NPCC violence against women and girls strategic programme director Samantha Millar says: “Spiking can have a significant, traumatic impact on victims and feelings of safety in the night-time economy, particularly for women and girls.

“Spiking is a complex offence to investigate, which is why quick reporting and early evidence gathering is key, particularly police forensic testing. It’s really important that young people in particular are aware of the symptoms of spiking and feel confident in reporting it to the police, should it happen to them or someone they know.

“I hope that the policing response to protect women and girls in the night-time economy shows how committed we are to making our streets safer and sends a message to perpetrators that there is nowhere for them to hide.”

The signs of being spiked

It can be difficult to tell if your drink has been spiked but if you notice any changes to the appearance or taste of your drink, stop drinking it. If you’re in a bar or club tell staff or security immediately, the NPCC says. If you think you or a friend have been spiked, there are a range of things to look out for, including:

  • Confusion

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Hallucinations and paranoia

  • Disorientation or poor coordination

  • Loss of ability to communicate properly

  • Unconsciousness It can be difficult to spot the symptoms as they vary depending on what you have been spiked with and can be similar to having excess alcohol. If you start to feel strange or more drunk than you thought you should be, seek help straight away.

What should I do if I think I’ve been spiked?

Call 999 or 101 to report it to the police. If you are out in a bar or club, you can report to a member of staff, who will be able to help and support you.

If you are injured or have symptoms you are worried about after being spiked, call NHS 111. If you think you’ve been sexually assaulted, you can go to your nearest sexual assault referral centre (SARC) for specialist care and support.

At a SARC you can receive a medical or forensic examination (whether or not you decide to report to the police).

If you’ve been affected by crime and you need confidential support or information, you can also call Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111. What happens when I am tested?

If police feel it’s appropriate, they will take a non-invasive urine sample. Some drugs leave the body in a very short time (within 12 hours), so it’s important to test as soon as possible.

Other drugs remain in the body longer, so testing will be considered up to seven days after the incident. The test the police use is the most effective way of finding out whether you have been spiked.

If you are tested in a hospital or by your GP, you will need to also have a police test, as this is what can be used as evidence to support charges or convictions.

If you tell the police how much you have drunk and whether you have voluntarily taken drugs, they will be able to provide a more accurate result.

It is not a crime to have illegal drugs in your system (unless you are driving), so don’t let this stop you reporting spiking.

The test results will come back in three weeks and will be discussed with you.

How to reduce the risk of spiking

  • Watch out for your friends and look after each other

  • Never leave your drink unattended

  • Be cautious if you are bought or given a drink – consider only accept drinks from people you know and trust

  • Be wary if people are reaching over your drinks

  • Alert staff immediately if you see anyone acting suspiciously around your or someone else's drink

  • If you or a friend feel unwell, seek help from staff or call an ambulance immediately

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