The safety of customers in nightclubs has been brought to people’s attention after media reports of a large number of drink spiking reports to the police – see, for example,

The petition

On 14 October 2021, Hannah Thomson submitted an e-petition to the UK Government petitions’ website calling for the Government to legislate to require “nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry .” The text of the petition reads:

“I would like the UK Government to make it law that nightclubs must search guests on arrival to prevent harmful weapons and other items entering the establishment. This could be a pat down search or metal detector, but must involve measures being put in place to ensure the safety of the public.

There are too many cases of weapons and ‘date rape’ drugs being used in clubs. It begs the question, why aren’t nightclubs required to do more to prevent harmful items making it into their clubs?”

As of the 04 November 2021, the petition had received 172,081 signatures. The Government has not yet provided their written response which became necessary after the petition reached 10,000 signatures.

Spiking

Spiking refers to the practice of administering a substance to a person without their knowledge or consent. This usually involves adding alcohol or drugs to their drink with the intention of intoxicating them. However, recent police reports have included instances of people being spiked through an injection – see “Injection spiking: How likely is it?”, BBC [online], 22 October 2021.

The website of the Drinkaware charity includes further information on drink spiking and date rape drugs.

Administering a substance with intent is a criminal offence under section 61 of the Sexual Offences Act 2003:

“A person commits an offence if he intentionally administers a substance to, or causes a substance to be taken by, another person (B)—

(a) knowing that B does not consent, and

(b) with the intention of stupefying or overpowering B, so as to enable any person to engage in a sexual activity that involves B.”

This offence carries a maximum custodial sentence of 10 years.

The Licensing Act 2003

The Licensing Act 2003 applies to the sale of alcohol and the provision of “regulated entertainment” in England and Wales. Four licensing objectives underpin the 2003 Act:

  • the prevention of crime and disorder;
  • public safety;
  • prevention of public nuisance;
  • the protection of children from harm.

If a licensed premises fails to uphold any of the objectives, the local authority and police (in certain circumstances) can take action. This could result in a licence being modified, conditions added, or the revocation of a licence. On drink “spiking”, a PQ response [122257] of 16 January 2018 explained:

“…The review process of the Licensing Act 2003 allows licensing authorities to place conditions on a licence where it is proportionate and appropriate to do so. For example, CCTV requirements where spiking has been identified. Where serious offences have occurred, in particular where the premises has been negligent, the police can apply for an expedited review and the licensing authority can suspend a licence where necessary, as an interim step, pending the review hearing…”

For further detail on premises licences see:

Scotland

In Scotland, the Licensing (Scotland) Act 2005 regulates the sale and supply of alcohol. The Act has five licensing objectives. Four are the same as the legislation in England and Wales, the fifth objective is protecting and improving public health. For further detail, see the Scottish Government’s Alcohol licensing guidance (December 2018).

Northern Ireland

The main legislation that applies to the sale of alcohol is the Licensing (Northern Ireland) Order 1996, as amended by the Licensing and Regulation of Clubs (Amendment) Act (Northern Ireland) 2021. For further detail, see the Department for Communities’ webpage on alcohol licensing.

Parliamentary material

Asked by: Champion, Sarah

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what steps her Department is taking to tackle the spiking of women and girls’ drinks’ with illegal substances in nightclubs.

Answering member: Rachel Maclean | Department: Home Office

The reports of the spiking of drinks with illegal substances, and of other attacks on individuals in night time venues, are of course concerning. This is an ongoing matter which the police are investigating. The Home Secretary has asked the police for an urgent update on the issues reported, including what steps they are taking to prevent the offences and apprehend the perpetrators. We would encourage anyone who is a victim or a witness of the offences to report the information to the police.

The Government is supporting the rollout of pilot initiatives to improve the safety of women in public spaces at night, including in the night-time economy. We have committed to delivering a £5 million ‘Safety of Women at Night’ fund, in addition to the £25 million Safer Streets Fund?Round 3. These funds will support projects that target potential perpetrators, seek to protect potential victims, or deliver programmes intended to address offending behaviour.

28 Oct 2021 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 59799

Date tabled: 20 Oct 2021 | Date for answer: 22 Oct 2021 | Date answered: 28 Oct 2021

Asked by: Harris, Carolyn

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, what assessment he has made of the potential effect on drug-related fatalities of drug safety testing at (a) festivals, (b) nightclubs and (c) other large gatherings of young people.

Answering member: Victoria Atkins | Department: Home Office

Drugs are illegal where there is scientific and medical evidence that they are harmful to health and society. The possession of any amount of a controlled drug is a criminal offence and the supply of a controlled drug is an even more serious offence. No illegal drug-taking can be assumed to be safe and there is no safe way to take them.

The Government’s approach remains clear: we must prevent illicit drug use in our communities and help those dependent on drugs to recover, while ensuring our drug laws are enforced. In relation to drug testing at festivals, chief constables are responsible for operational decisions in their local area and we are not standing in their way. We are exploring with the National Police Chiefs’ Council whether their advice on this issue needs to be clarified.

03 Sep 2018 | Written questions | Answered | House of Commons | 163156

Date tabled: 11 Jul 2018 | Date for answer: 16 Jul 2018 | Date answered: 03 Sep 2018

Media

Needle spiking: what is it and why is it happening? – The Independent, 03 November 2021

Girls Night In: Clubs ‘working hard’ to tackle drink spiking – BBC, 29 October 2021

Women boycott UK bars and clubs to demand action on drink-spiking – The Guardian, 27 October 2021

Britain’s biggest nightclub firm introduces drink covers and body searches after injection and spiking cases – The Independent, 26 October 2021

Bouncer shortage a ‘threat to public safety’, warn nightlife bosses -BBC, 18 October 2021

Organisations

Stop Spiking – Support Services – Night Times Industries Association

Together we can stop drink spiking – Night Times Industries Association


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