Spiked in Bristol: Are pub-goers still at risk?

ITV News asked revellers in Bristol if they had experienced drink spiking in the city Credit: ITV News West Country

In 2021, the needle-spiking phenomenon made headlines across the country.

It was the latest iteration of spiking - a crime that dates back to Victorian times, when people were ‘Mickey-Finned’ before having their valuables stolen.

In the Avon and Somerset policing area, there were 185 reports of “spiking” between 1 October and 11 November 2011.

Let’s set the scene. After several Covid lockdowns, bars, clubs and pubs reopened in 2021 and by Freshers’ Week that year, young people were visiting them in droves.

Since then, the needle spiking phenomenon has - thankfully - died down. It follows a major campaign by Bristol Business Improvement District, Bristol Nights and the police.

However, according to Lorna Dallimore - the spiking lead for Avon and Somerset - incidents of drink spiking remain between 10 and 40 per month, across the force area.

We spoke to pubgoers on the streets of Bristol to get their views on the issue.

Ella and her friend Dan Credit: ITV News West Country

Ella, a second-year French and History student at the University of Bristol, is chatting to her friends on the benches outside Lane 7, off Millennium Square.

She tells me she was spiked within the last few months at a venue in the city centre.

“I initially thought I was just really drunk," she said. "The room was spinning, I couldn’t process thoughts and couldn’t really move.

“I think I just blacked out because I don’t really remember it after a certain point. The next day I just thought ‘I really don’t think I drank that much’.

“I had a few drinks because I was on a night out, but it sort of all pointed to me being spiked. I was throwing up all over the place and I collapsed.

“I don’t remember any of it but my friends were like ‘you weren’t responding’. You always think ‘it won’t happen to me’ and I know that’s a stupid thing to say,” she says.

If you have been affected by any of the issues raised in this report, there is help available to you. Visit the Stamp Out Spiking charity for support, resources and guidance. If you believe you have been a victim of crime, contact your local police force to report it.

Ella, who comes from Manchester, adds that her friends told her they’d had to carry her upstairs to bed, because she “couldn’t move”.

“It made me think ‘jeez, I don’t remember any of that’. It’s kind of scary to think that all of that was happening but I can’t remember any of it

“I did feel a bit rough the next day. I was disorientated, more than I usually would’ve been, because I was just like ‘how did I get home?’” she says.

Ella’s friend Dan, a Media Production student at UWE, from Birmingham, chips in to back her up. He says he thinks spiking disproportionately affects women.

“I’m not saying it doesn’t happen to men, because I know men it has happened to, but proportionately it’s going to happen a lot less

“I’ve seen it happen to girls I’ve been out with, where they’ll get like… It’ll seem like they’re drunk, but you’ll slowly realise they’re gone.

“You’ve seen them drink before but this is something else.

“When you talk to them the next morning, they say something like ‘yeah, I think I was actually spiked’ and it just suddenly hits you that that’s the reality,” he says.

On St Nicholas Street, Jasmine and her friends are ending their night out with a burger.

Jasmine (second from left) and her friends on St Nicholas Street Credit: ITV News West Country

I ask them if they know anyone who has been spiked.

Jasmine answers: “My friend was taken to A&E. I don’t know if they tested her, they just said she’d probably been spiked.

“My friend was in the flat and they were all looking after her. But Bristol is quite a safe city, I think.”

Have they heard about the drink-testing kits available in most bars in the city centre?

Jasmine’s friend says: “I knew they had test kits at festivals, but not in Bristol.

Jasmine chips back in: “I think if more people knew the symptoms of spiking it would be better because obviously if people overdo it on the alcohol you can confuse it with spiking.

“If your friend’s been spiked, you want to take them to hospital as soon as possible, you don’t want to just tuck them up in bed.”

  • Publican Mike Coe explains how to use a kit to check if your drink has been spiked

The drink-testing kits were rolled out as part of the Stop Spiking campaign in 2021, to bars and clubs across Bristol.

They’re similar to a litmus test and include a credit card-sized piece of test paper and a swab.

To test a drink, you use the swab to touch some liquid onto each of the four corners of the test paper. They’ll change colour if drugs like GHB, Rohypnol, or even cocaine, are present.

The test kits are commonly touted as one of the campaign’s main successes, but are pub and club-goers aware of them?

Mezli and Alfie on King Street Credit: ITV News West Country

On King Street, I meet Mezli and her friends, who are students at UWE. She says she’s used a test kit before, but she’s never seen one in Bristol.

“It was in north Devon in this place called Tavern. Some man gave me a drink and he was like ‘I haven’t touched it, but I’m leaving so do you want it'.

“I went to the bar and got it tested and they were like ‘nah, it’s fine’.

“I follow this feminist page on Facebook that spoke about it and they said you could go to any bar and they would have them, so I would expect most people to have them.

“But I feel like if there was more advertising about it, it would be better. You know when they advertise Ask Angela? They could do posters about testing your drink.

“I think you should be able to buy a kit or they should give them out the way they do with flip-flops.”

Her friend Alfie agrees that he’s never seen a test kit used at a venue in Bristol - but, as he found out, people aren’t always spiked in venues.

He tells me: “It was my first year of uni at UWE - nearly three years ago. I was at a flat party during Freshers and we were all having a good time.

“My drink got stolen and I thought ‘somebody’s definitely taken it’. I ended up sharing a drink with my friend, who was a girl.

“And then, the flat party got shut down by security from the campus. My mate was like let’s go to Maccies, so I went in his car and the next thing I knew I was waking up in hospital.

“They said they couldn’t prove it, but that it was most likely I’d been spiked. I just sort of put it behind me.

“It’s scary but I feel like it’s died down now quite a lot. When I first got to uni after Covid it was really bad.

"I don’t know if that’s because I’m in my final year, but I don’t hear about it too much anymore.”

Mezli and Alfie are sharing a bench with some other UWE students, including Yasmin and Natalie.

Natalie (second from left) and Yasmin (foreground) have both experienced spiking Credit: ITV News West Country

Both of them say they’ve been spiked on nights out in Manchester, their home city.

“I was like hallucinating and speaking to someone who wasn’t there,” Yasmin says.

“When I first moved here, the whole thing with the injections came out. On my first day when I came to uni there was someone who had spiked someone and it was all over social media.

“I’ve not felt too unsafe but I’m in a good group of friends and I think because there’s a big proportion of boys at UWE I think that’s partially why. I think when you’re in a big group of girls you’re more vulnerable sometimes.”

Natalie says she usually “covers her drink with a coaster” on nights out, to stop anyone from adding substances to it.

She and Yasmin say they’ve never seen anyone use a drink-testing kit in Bristol, but they think “after a few drinks” you’re less likely to think of doing it.

A few hundred metres away, at The Hole in the Wall, Lauren is enjoying an al fresco drink with her friend.

She says: “A few years ago none of this was really very well-known, so it’s good to see that people who work in venues are being educated on it.

“About three years ago, I was out with my friends and I just remember feeling weird, I felt really weird and out of control and really horrible

“I’m really lucky that my friends are amazing and they just got me an Uber home, but I was sick for three days afterwards

“I felt terrible and my work kind of made me feel like I was acting up or whatever."

She thinks she was spiked by someone she knew, and said: “I think he dropped something in my drink. I remember my drink tasting weird but I was a little bit drunk at the time

“I was in that student era of just kind of feeling care-free and stuff. I wasn’t really educated on it until I talked it through with my friend and said ‘that’s really unusual, I’m not one to get ridiculously drunk’.”

ITV News West Country approached Bristol City Council and Bristol BID for comment on the public's awareness of drink-testing kits.

Lorna Dallimore is Avon and Somerset Police's spiking lead Credit: Avon and Somerset Police

Lorna Dallimore, spiking lead for Avon and Somerset Police, explained that it can be difficult to prosecute the offence due to the 24-hour forensic window.

Currently, spiking is not a specific offence in the UK - but there have been increased calls to make it one.

The law currently states that it is a crime to maliciously administer, cause to administer or cause to be taken by any other person any poison or destructive or noxious thing, such as to endanger their life, cause them grievous bodily harm, or intentionally injure, aggrieve, or annoy them.

Examples of spiking include:

  • putting alcohol into someone’s drink without their knowledge or permission

  • putting prescription or illegal drugs into someone’s alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink without their knowledge or permission

  • injecting someone with prescription or illegal drugs without their knowledge or permission

  • putting prescription or illegal drugs into someone’s food without their knowledge or permission

  • putting prescription or illegal drugs into someone’s cigarette or vape without their knowledge or permission

A Home Affairs select committee discussed the idea of making a specific spiking offence, but decided against it.

Avon and Somerset Police were among the forces that voted against the move.

“We decided it wouldn’t add anything and would make things more complicated,” Lorna said.

From 2022-23, police in Avon and Somerset received 600 reports of spiking. Around 75% of victims were female and people aged 18-29 and 30-39 were mostly likely to be targeted.

Around 82% of victims don’t know who has spiked them and around 21% of victims are from the LGBT community.

Lorna added that, although the issue is commonly thought of as affecting students, “just because you’re not a student, doesn’t mean you’re immune to someone taking advantage of you by stupefying you”.

She also said that although drugs like GHB and Rohypnol can be used to incapacitate someone, often people are spiked with extra alcohol that they don’t realise has been added to their drink.

“If you look at stag dos - culturally, it’s tradition to give the stag too much to drink, even though technically that’s illegal.

“That becomes a challenge because the signs and symptoms - unconsciousness, confusion, paranoia, poor coordination - could be the same for spiking as drinking.

“If it’s drugs, ideally we’d want the individual to report within 12 hours because certain drugs metabolise within 12 hours and when we do the testing it’s no longer there,” Lorna said.

The government has been trying to tackle drink spiking. Credit: ITV Meridian

She added that, although the drink-testing kits offered by venues can help indicate a drink has been tampered with, they can’t be used as evidence to prosecute someone.

For that, police need to take a urine sample and send it away for forensic testing. But will police always be able to attend a report of spiking?

“My expectation would be if that’s reported there and then, and there are opportunities there forensically, from CCTV or whatever, that that’s written up as a priority incident and we will be attending.

“Where we don’t attend is when we’re outside the forensic window and there are no other forensic opportunities because the venue doesn’t have CCTV.

“We will absolutely always contact you and provide you with safeguarding information,” Lorna said.

She added: “There’s always going to be situations where we have competing priorities and with a finite resource you have to determine which to attend.

“Within Avon and Somerset, and Bristol specifically, over the past few months we’ve had some very serious youth violence.

“If something like that came in, versus a spiking, am I confident we’d be going to the spiking? I think we’d be going elsewhere.”

The Stop Spiking campaign will have a resurgence this autumn in order to tackle the peak in cases that typically occurs during Freshers’ Week every year.