An inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee has found that data on the prevalence of spiking is scarce and will remain a barrier to policing until data collection is improved.
In a report, published today (26 April), the Committee has called for a focused and co-ordinated response to ensure that incidents are better investigated and a knowledge base developed to underpin new strategies to combat spiking.
It suggests that bars and clubs with a bad track record on spiking should be required to improve if they are to have their licences renewed, and recommends that a Government-led national strategy be introduced that includes a support package for hospitality venues, particularly those in the night-time industry, to boost security measures and the recruitment and training of additional door security staff, especially women.
Trade body UKHospitality has endorsed proposals for a co-ordinated approach to drink-spiking and wider vulnerability initiatives, and backed the calls for more to be done to counter shortages in door staff.
“The Committee’s recommendation for Government support for night-time businesses to help recruit and train door staff is very welcome, as is consideration for a review of current offences and evidence-gathering and how this can be improved,” says Kate Nicholls, chief executive of UKHospitality.
“The hospitality sector will continue to work together with the Home Office, police and local authorities to tackle drink spiking as part of the wider customer safety agenda, building on the good work many hospitality businesses are already doing to address the matter through both their own and joint initiatives, recognised by the Committee.
“This is a serious issue, and it needs to be tackled quickly and effectively, but through effective partnership working, rather than via restrictions imposed on operators’ licences.”
Tackling the problem
The Home Affairs Committee launched the inquiry in December to better understand the prevalence of spiking and the effectiveness of the police response to it.
Since the night-time economy begun to reopen last summer there have been increasing reports of drink spiking, in which substances such as illegal or legal drugs are added to people’s drinks without their knowledge.
Anecdotal evidence cited by the Committee suggests the practice is widespread and dangerous, and that many people, particularly young women, are affected by it and are afraid they will be spiked on evenings out.
However, it notes that an absence of accurate data makes it impossible to judge accurately just how widespread and how dangerous spiking is.
Additionally, policy initiatives to reduce both spiking and the fear of it cannot be well-founded or well-targeted without reliable evidence, the report says.
Creating a new criminal offence for spiking, which the Government is considering, would make victims more likely to come forward and signal to perpetrators that such behaviour will be punished, it continues.
The MPs also recommend the Government engage with the night-time industry, the education sector, and the health sector to produce a national anti-spiking communications campaign that sends a clear message there is no acceptable defence for spiking; encourage victims and venues to report incidents to the police, with the promise that all reports will be investigated; and communicate immediate and longer-term sources of support for spiking victims, including testing.
They add that there must be a duty on police to provide those who have reported spiking with forensic testing.
Over the course of the inquiry, the Home Affairs Committee heard concerns from witnesses that some nightclubs are aware of spiking taking place but do not warn customers, for fear that being transparent about drink spiking might be bad for business.
The Night Time Industries Association (NTIA), which represents more than 1,200 independent bars, clubs and live music venues across the UK and had called for an inquiry into spiking, note this in its response to the report.
“We are clear that this is wrong and stand ready to work with the Government on improving people’s experience when they are reporting these crimes,” says Michael Kill, chief executive of the NTIA.
“The work the industry and key stakeholders have done over the last six months in terms of raising awareness, training, re-evaluating operational processes and searching policy - as well as seeking mechanical protections. Testing continues to be extensive, but must be continually reviewed.”
Kill adds that one thing the NTIA has consistently emphasised is the role the shortage of door staff is playing in the crisis.
“We would be grateful for more engagement from the Home Office on door staff recruitment, in particular the recruitment of more women - who currently make up only 10% of staff – which we believe would help with some of the problems highlighted by the Committee.”