From Autumn 2021 there has been a concerning increase in reports of spiking, including a new trend of allegations of substances being administered by needles rather than through drinks. Councils take these allegations extremely seriously and have worked with the police and other partners to respond swiftly to these reports.
- From Autumn 2021 there has been a concerning increase in reports of spiking, including a new trend of allegations of substances being administered by needles rather than through drinks. Councils take these allegations extremely seriously and have worked with the police and other partners to respond swiftly to these reports.
- The recent Home Affairs Committee inquiry into spiking concluded that there is an urgent need to improve the reporting, investigation and prosecution of spiking incidents and to improve victim support. We urge the Government to consider their recommendations to improve awareness of spiking, encourage victims to come forward and support the police and health partners to respond to incidents effectively.
- While the response to individual incidents of spiking is led by the police, councils have an important role to play in supporting a safe night-time economy through the licensing system and their broader community safety work. Working with local partners, many councils have put in place comprehensive local initiatives to proactively prevent and tackle spiking and other safeguarding issues in the night time economy.
- LGA guidance encourages councils to reference partnership schemes and training packages in their statement of licensing policy, and work proactively with their local nightlife sector and other local partners to implement best practice approaches.
- In response to the increase in spiking reports, we have also produced a guidance note for councils to share good practice of the preventative action councils and premises can take to prevent, and respond effectively to, drink spiking.
- The Home Affairs Committee has recommended that Government work with local authorities to develop an anti-spiking strategy and ensure councils are able to make full use of their powers within the licensing system to tackle spiking. The LGA is working closely with Government in response to these recommendations.
- The LGA would welcome more national funding for local initiatives that aim to address and prevent spiking and wider community safety issues. We have called for the extension of both the Safer Streets Fund and Safety of Women Fund to invest in community safety initiatives that help ensure our residents can enjoy public spaces and venues at night. Government should provide multi-year funding for future projects, with adequate time for the delivery and evaluation. We are also calling Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) to be funded on a long-term basis and for the Government to extend VRU funding, already made available to 20 Police and Crime Commissioners, to the remaining 21 local areas.
- There needs to be concerted action to understand and address preparators’ behaviour, with the aim of preventing and disrupting people from committing spiking in the first place. We would like to see Government address spiking as part of wider national and local strategies to tackle and prevent violent crime, and violence against women and girls.
As identified by the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry into spiking, there is no accurate national data on the prevalence of spiking incidents. What drives perpetrators to spike people is also poorly understood. This is due, in part, to the under-reporting of spiking incidents; the anti-spiking organisation, StopTopps, has estimated that over 97 per cent of cases of drink-spiking are not reported to the police. Additionally, as there is no specific offense of ‘spiking,’ police forces record spiking incidents under a variety of other offences, which makes the data challenging to interpret.
The Home Affairs Committee concluded that there is an urgent need to improve the reporting, investigation and prosecution of spiking incidents and to improve victim support. Victims of spiking say that shame, memory loss or blackouts prevent them from coming forward to report, as does a fear that they will not be believed or that the crime will not be properly investigated.
Most licensed premises in the night-time economy take their role in safeguarding extremely seriously and many members of staff will receive mandatory vulnerability training, including bar and door staff. However, victims of spiking sometimes report that they are not taken seriously by staff at venues, and opportunities are missed to collect evidence. LGA guidance encourages all councils to work with local premises to promote and encourage the implementation of best practice in sector, such as by participating in schemes like Ask for Angela.
The Home Affairs Committee also identified that improvements are needed in the frontline response to spiking – both in the police and health service. A lack of drug testing capacity in some areas can mean victims struggle to access testing. Victims also report that police and medical staff, in some instances, do not immediately carry out testing, which means early opportunities to collect evidence needed for prosecution is missed.
Councils’ role in tackling spiking incidents
While the immediate response to individual spiking incidents is primarily led by the police, councils have a key role working in partnership with police, businesses and other local organisations to review the local picture and take broader action to proactively address spiking incidents in their area.
The most direct way councils can take action to address spiking is through the licensing system. If there are specific safeguarding concerns about a particular venue, a licensing authority’s licensing committee has the power to apply conditions or to decide to suspend or revoke a premises’ licence.
A review would generally be triggered by a responsible authority expressing concerns or sharing new evidence about a premises with a licensing authority - in the case of spiking, the responsible authority raising concerns is most likely to be the police.
Within their statement of licensing policy, many councils proactively refer licensed premises to training packages for safeguarding in the night-time economy and signpost to best practice. LGA guidance encourages all councils to work with local premises to promote and encourage the implementation of best practice in sector, and we continue to support councils to take a proactive approach. The LGA has also compiled a number of case studies which highlight best practice and encourages councils to consider approaches to spiking prevention which have been effective.
The Home Affairs Committee recommended that the Government should:
- Collect national data on local licensing authorities’ use of their powers to impose conditions or revoke premises licenses, where venues do not take sufficient measures to protect and provide support to customers in spiking incidents,
- Work with local authorities to develop an anti-spiking strategy which encourages local licensing authorities to make better use of these powers
- Review guidance issued under section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 with a view to requiring licensing authorities to consider the prevalence, prevention and reporting of sexual harassment and misconduct and gender-based violence in statements of local licensing policy.
The LGA is working closely with Government to address these recommendations and support councils to implement best practice approaches.
As we have previously highlighted, we are concerned that court delays are in some cases impeding licensing authorities’ from taking timely action to address serious safeguarding concerns at venues. If a premises’ licence is revoked, premises have the right to appeal the decision and the premises can stay open until the appeal is heard in court. Given the current capacity challenges in the courts, this process can take several months and unsafe venues which are in breach of their licensing conditions are able to remain open during this time.
Local partnership working
There are various partnership schemes and initiatives across the UK which promote safeguarding and best-practice in the night-time economy. These include Pubwatch, Best Bar None, Purple Flag, Street Pastors and local community alcohol partnerships. Councils routinely work in partnership with these schemes and many councils refer to these schemes in their statement of licensing policy which makes them a core part of how a council manages its local night-time economy.
Targeted spiking prevention schemes
Many councils also work with police and other partners, such as universities, to proactively take action to prevent spiking, particularly in areas which have seen a rise in reports of spiking. For example:
- Bristol City Council have rolled out testing kits to detect drink spiking which will be made available to all police officers and at 60 night-time economy venues, following a successful bid to the Government’s Safer Streets Fund. This will enable officers to test drinks on the spot to prevent spiking and help them to collect early evidence for investigations. Bristol has also launched a drink spiking campaign in partnership with Avon and Somerset Police, licensed premises and the BID. The campaign aims to improve reporting, increase prosecutions, create a consistent response across licensed premises and ensure that victims of spiking are looked after and taken seriously. To further support the campaign, the team has produced a drink spiking process guide for venues. This provides guidance on what spiking is and things to look out for, as well as signposting to support services.
- In Devon and Cornwall, urine testing kits are available in police stations for people who suspect they have been spiked, and drink testing kits are available in various bars across the region to enable customers to test their drinks.
Improving the response to spiking
The LGA would welcome more national funding for local initiatives that aim to address and prevent spiking and wider community safety issues. Recent Government funding, via the Safer Streets Fund and the Safety of Women at Night Fund, has helped to support a number of community safety campaigns and initiatives. Whilst this funding has been helpful to local areas, each round of funding has been made available on a one-year short-term basis with often short turnaround times to develop and submit bids. This has limited councils’ ability to invest funding in long-term initiatives which deliver more impactful outcomes.
The LGA has called for the extension of both the Safer Streets Fund and Safety of Women Fund to invest in community safety initiatives that help ensure our residents can enjoy public spaces and venues at night. Government should also provide multi-year funding for future projects, with adequate time for the delivery and evaluation.
To bolster local areas’ ability to tackle serious violence, including that associated with spiking, the LGA is calling for Violence Reduction Units (VRUs) to be funded on a long-term basis and for the Government to extend the Violence Reduction Unit funding, already made available to 20 Police and Crime Commissioners, to the remaining 21 local areas. VRUs aim to bring local organisations including the police, local government, health, community leaders and other key partners to identify what is driving violent crime in an area and develop a coordinated response. These units and local partnership working should be utilised to respond to reports of spiking and take an effective, multi-agency approach to disrupting and preventing perpetrator behaviour.
Tackling perpetrator behaviour
There needs to be concerted action to understand and address preparators’ behaviour, with the aim of preventing and disrupting people from committing spiking in the first place.
Spiking needs to be addressed as part of wider national and local strategies to tackle and prevent violent crime, and violence against women and girls. Although everyone is vulnerable to spiking, women are targeted at higher rates (an estimated 1 in 9 women, compared to 1 in 17 men.) A whole society response, underpinned by a Government commitment to provide long-term funding and support, is needed to tackle the underlying reasons for gender-based violence and drive a cultural shift.
We welcome the Home Office’s national communications campaign, “Enough”, which aims to tackle violence against women and girls through addressing perpetrators’ behaviour. The Government should also consider producing an anti-spiking campaign to raise awareness of spiking and send a clear message to perpetrators that all forms of spiking are unacceptable and carry significant legal consequences.