Last Wednesday Parliament in the Westminster Hall held a debate called “Spiking Incidents: Prevention” which can be found here. The debate took place in response to a Petition that was entitled “Make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry”. The petition was released back in mid October 2021 and it was closed last April 2022 with over 175,000 signatures by the end of the process. The petition can be found here and the text is listed at the bottom of this piece. The Parliamentary response was organised by Richard Graham MP who is the MP for Gloucester and the text for the debate can be obtained from here. These are the opening words from Richard Graham at the beginning of the debate.
The truth is that it should not have been necessary to have this debate. I do not intend to run through all the evidence showing why spiking is such an increased modern risk, particularly to young females and particularly in the night-time economy, because that is all on the record, including in Home Affairs Committee papers and in my ten-minute rule Bill on spiking offences, which I promoted almost exactly a year ago.
I will briefly mention, however, recent findings, the most striking of which are the data presented by the National Police Chiefs’ Council. For the year from 1 September 2021 to 31 August 2022, it has recorded 2,581 reported cases of spiking by needle; 2,131 reported cases of spiking by drink; and 212 reported cases of spiking by other means, particularly food. That is a total of almost 5,000 reported cases for the last year on record, and if that is not an indication of how serious this issue is, I struggle to understand what is serious.
Later on in the debate, towards the end of the debate only one Sussex MP has taken part and that was Sally-Ann Hart who is the MP for Hastings and Rye. There were nearly 5,000 signatures from Sussex which was consistent with the rest of the UK contributions. Sally-Ann stated the following words.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms McVey. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on securing a debate on this very important issue. As he said, spiking is illegal, but as it has become a serious problem in the United Kingdom, with thousands of young people falling victim to this disgusting crime, causing considerable fear and anxiety among many more, there are, understandably, calls for spiking to be made a separate offence.
As we have heard, almost 5,000 reports of needle and drink spiking were made to UK police forces over the course of 2022. However, that does not represent the scale of the problem, as most victims of spiking do not report it to the authorities. I was perturbed to read recently that Sussex has the seventh highest level of drink spiking in the UK. Most victims say they do not report it because they are embarrassed or ashamed, because they do not remember what happened or because they do not believe anything will be done about it.
Many things need to change so that our young people can feel safe while socialising. The culture around spiking needs to change. We need anti-spiking measures at UK nightclubs and bars, and they need to become commonplace. Convictions for spiking need to increase, with the most severe sentences handed down. The education of young people is a key starting point, to prevent the risk of harm in the first place. Clubs and bars can take many safety measures to reduce the threat of spiking, and the training of staff, for example, is crucial. They are likely wise to the effects of increased alcohol consumption and, as such, can read when someone is reaching their limit, but spotting a potential spiking is different; greater awareness is therefore required.
I will point out the Ask for Angela scheme, which is a brilliant safety initiative that protects people if they feel unsafe, vulnerable or threatened in a bar or club. The codeword is a signal to staff that someone requires assistance or help. Many establishments have adopted the initiative, and I hope that it becomes much more commonplace. I thank Sussex police for its work in highlighting the scheme.
I am also aware of some clubs using spiked drink test strips to test random, unattended drinks, or the drinks of concerned customers, for substances. Some bars and clubs have fully qualified first aid responders or medics on site throughout the night; however, that is rare, and we need to look at more initiatives on this. It is crucial to have more co-ordinated support from venues, police and health services. When someone believes that they have been spiked, they should be able to access health services as quickly as possible. They should be tested quickly for substances, because spiking drugs pass through people’s bodies so quickly that it is hard to collect evidence and prosecute offenders.
Clubs, bars, pubs and individuals can all take action to protect their customers and themselves against spiking, but I urge the Minister to expedite progress on legislation, which is also required. Spiking largely affects women and girls, although men are victims too; we must stand up for women and girls, and for their rights and safety, and show that we have zero tolerance. This Conservative Government have done much to fight violence against women and girls, and further legislation—or a change in legislation—should be part of our armour.
The rest of the debate can be obtained from here. It would be very useful if the people who run the Nightclubs will be discussed with their MPs. I have a friend who runs a nightclub in Brighton and I hope that he will get some support from his local MPs. Here is the content from the petition.
Make it a legal requirement for nightclubs to thoroughly search guests on entry
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?