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The nature and scale of spiking

Spiking refers to the practice of administering a substance to a person without their knowledge or consent. It can be perpetrated in two main ways:

  • drink spiking, which involves adding alcohol or drugs to a person’s drink with the intention of intoxicating them
  • needle spiking, which involves injecting a person with drugs or other substances

Drink spiking has been a well-known issue for many years. However, needle spiking is a more recent development, with the issue first attracting media attention in October 2021.

Reports of needle spiking increased throughout October, with some press reports describing it as an “epidemic”. However, some medical experts expressed doubt as to how widespread needle spiking was in practice, given the difficulties of trying to inject someone with drugs in a busy environment such as a club or bar.

The reports led to a range of immediate responses, including:

  • The then Home Secretary Priti Patel was reported to have requested an update from police on the findings of their investigations.
  • Local campaign groups formed – some under the banner of “Girls Night In” – to highlight personal experiences, boycott night-time economy venues and to call for change.
  • Some venues responded by introducing measures such as protective drinks covers, increased entry searches, and ‘women only’ evenings.
  • A petition calling for a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry was launched in October 2021. It was subsequently debated in the Commons and closed with over 175,000 signatures.
  • The Home Affairs Committee announced an inquiry into spiking to examine its prevalence, the forms it takes, the impact it has on victims, and the response of police and other organisations (e.g. night-time industries and universities) in preventing and detecting spiking.

Official statistics on spiking are not routinely published, but in December 2022 the National Police Chiefs’ Council said that between September 2021 and September 2022 nearly 5,000 cases of needle and drink spiking incidents had been reported to forces across England and Wales.

The criminal law

There is no single offence that covers spiking. Instead a range of more general offences can potentially be used to prosecute perpetrators, such as the offence of administering a substance with intent.

There have been calls to introduce a specific offence of spiking. In its report on spiking, the Home Affairs Committee called on the Home Office to provide a written update on progress towards creating a separate criminal offence of spiking within six months of the date of its report. It considered that the introduction of a specific offence would not stop spiking, but would have several benefits, including enabling better data collection by police, acting as a deterrent to perpetrators, and encouraging more victims to report spiking.

Government action

In its response to the Home Affairs Committee the Government committed to reporting to Parliament by 26 October 2022 on whether it intends to introduce a specific criminal offence for spiking. However, this report has been delayed due to changes in Government and the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The Government is also due to publish a wider report on the nature and prevalence of spiking by 28 April 2023, as required by section 71 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The report will also set out any steps the Government has taken or intends to take in relation to spiking.

The Government’s response to the Home Affairs Committee’s report sets out a range of non-legislative actions it is taking to tackle spiking, including liaising with police on data collection, working with the Crown Prosecution Service on victim support, a communications campaign timed to coincide with the start of the university year, and engaging with industry and licensing authorities.

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