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 2021, 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 haverequested 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 asprotective drinks covers, increased entry searches, and ‘women only’ evenings.
  • Apetition 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 aninquiry 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 (NPCC) 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.

In September 2023 the Independent reported that it had seen new data from the NPCC showing “6,732 reported spiking offences between May 2022 and May 2023 – including 957 needle spiking offences”. The Independent said the figures showed “an average of 561 reported spiking offences per month during this period – with the policing body stating the data includes modified vapes and food which have been spiked”.

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.

Depending on the circumstances, the following offences could apply to both drink spiking and needle spiking:

  • Administering a substance with intent (Sexual Offences Act 2003, section 61)

    This offence is committed where a person intentionally administers a substance to, or causes a substance to be taken by, another person (B), knowing that B does not consent and with the intention of stupefying or overpowering B so as to enable any person to engage in a sexual activity involving B.

    The Explanatory Notes to section 61 state that this offence is “intended to cover use of so-called “date rape drugs” administered without the victim’s knowledge or consent, but it would also cover the use of any other substance (e.g. alcohol) with the relevant intention.

  • Administering poison or other noxious thing (Offences Against the Person Act 1861, section 23 and section 24)

    These offences involve administering (or causing to be administered to or taken by) “any poison or other destructive or noxious thing” to another person. For the section 23 offence, the conduct must thereby endanger the other person’s life, or inflict upon them grievous bodily harm. For the section 24 offence, the perpetrator must intend to injure, aggrieve or annoy the victim.

  • Drug offences (Misuse of Drugs Act 1971)

    If the substance used is a controlled drug under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, such as ketamine or GHB, then the drug offences in that Act (e.g. possession under section 5) could be used to prosecute the perpetrator.

For needle spiking only, injecting someone without their consent could also constitute an assault under the following provisions, depending on the physical harm caused to the victim:

  • Wounding or causing grievous bodily harm (Offences Against the Person Act 1861, section 18 and section 20)
  • Assault occasioning actual bodily harm (Offences Against the Person Act 1861, section 47)
  • Assault by beating (Criminal Justice Act 1988, section 39)

Calls for a specific offence

There have been calls to introduce a specific offence of spiking, or to amend the existing law to include specific reference to spiking.

In its report on spiking, published in April 2022, 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.

Richard Graham MP has introduced two Private Members’ Bills on the issue (under the ten minute rule).

In January 2022, he introduced the Spiking (Offence) Bill, which sought to create an offence of administering or attempting to administer drugs or alcohol to a person without their consent. Speaking at first reading, Mr Graham said that the existing law had been successfully used in some cases, but that “much in between is not covered, especially where it is not clear or cannot be proved what the purpose of spiking was or where the drug used cannot be identified, including because its effects have already worn off”.

Mr Graham withdrew the Bill while it was awaiting second reading. On his website he said that he had withdrawn the Bill “after the Home Secretary agreed to look into making spiking an individual offence with a report due back by Autumn 2022”.

Mr Graham subsequently introduced the Spiking Bill in June 2023, which he said would “make provision about the law in relation to administering or attempting to administer drugs, alcohol or any other substance to a person without their consent, whether or not with the intent to cause harm”. The Bill did not progress beyond first reading.

During a January 2023 Westminster Hall debate on preventing spiking incidents, a number of Members called for changes to the law to either introduce a new offence or to clarifying the application of existing offences to spiking incidents.

During the second reading debate on the Government’s Criminal Justice Bill on 28 November 2023, several Members referred to spiking and indicated they may seek to table amendments on the issue as the Bill progresses. The Bill would introduce a number of new criminal offences but does not currently include any provision on spiking.

Government action

In its response to the Home Affairs Committee, the Government set out a range of non-legislative actions the Government has been 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. It also committed to reporting to Parliament by 26 October 2022 on whether it intends to introduce a specific criminal offence for spiking.

However, the promised report was delayed due to changes in Government and the death of Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It was eventually published on 20 December 2022 in the form of a letter from Sarah Dines MP, then a Home Office minister, to Dame Diana Johnson MP, chair of the Home Affairs Committee. The letter said the Government had “concluded that there is no gap in the existing law that a new spiking offence would fill” and that introducing a new offence “would not capture any new criminal behaviour, it would not reduce the evidential burden to prosecute such offences; it would not increase the sentencing powers available to judges in such cases, and it would not increase the likelihood of charging or prosecuting an offender for spiking offences”. The Government said its focus would therefore remain on non-legislative measures to tackle spiking.

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

The Government did not meet the 28 April deadline. In response to a Parliamentary Question answered on 25 April 2023, the then Home Office minister Sarah Dines said the report was “now expected to be published following the May local elections.” This followed a letter to the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee on 3 April 2023 (PDF), in which Sarah Dines had said “the upcoming statutory report on spiking due to be published on 28 April 2023, will be delayed due to the upcoming pre-election period”, consistent with the Government’s election guidance on conduct for civil servants. She added “The Home Office intends to publish the report at the earliest opportunity in the weeks following the election on 04 May”.

In answer to a Parliamentary Question on 20 November 2023, Home Office minister Laura Farris said the report was “yet to be laid before Parliament” but the Government would “aim to do so by the end of the year”. At the time of writing the report had still not been published.

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