Drink spiking is a heinous crime which often has a damaging physical or mental health impact on its victims and that undermines their confidence. Improvements in reporting, investigating and prosecuting spiking incidents are urgently needed, to improve support for victims and to act as a deterrent.
Victims often experience memory loss or blackouts that hamper their ability to provide details of the spiking incident, if indeed they are prepared to report it at all. Barriers to reporting include: the belief that the police won’t do anything; not knowing where to report; and concern that it’s too late to report. The Home Office should conduct a national communications campaign to encourage victims to report spiking, tell them how to go about it, reassure them they will be believed, and signpost where and how to access support.
Even when victims report the crime, a victim-blaming culture can compound trauma and mean missed opportunities to collect evidence. Despite safeguarding training requirements for door supervisors, many victims criticise nightclubs’ treatment of victims, saying staff dismiss their concerns, eject them for “being drunk”, or refuse to provide CCTV footage. The Government should support night-time industries to help boost security measures such as recruitment and training of security staff.
Inadequate forensic testing capacity is another barrier to successful prosecution. Victims are often ping-ponged between the health service and the police, who told us they have insufficient forensic testing capacity and that late reporting reduces the viable testing window. The police piloted a rapid forensic testing service in response to a spate of needle spiking in autumn 2021. To help drive up prosecution rates, the Government should extend this service to all spiking victims, to ensure timely provision of forensic testing, admissible as evidence in court.
In 2018, licensing authorities conducted 600 licensing reviews, and revoked 212 licenses. There are 212,800 premises licenses in England and Wales. Local licensing authorities could make better use of their powers to regulate the night-time economy. We call on the Government to work with local authorities to develop an anti-spiking strategy. We are encouraged by a range of anti-spiking initiatives but concerned that some, while well-intentioned, may give victims false assurance about safety. The Government should evaluate the relative efficacy of anti-spiking initiatives and develop a national strategy that promotes best practice and requires all police forces and local authorities to publish their chosen approach.
Several offences may be used to prosecute spiking but there is no specific offence. This, together with limited reporting, investigation and prosecution, means there are few deterrents for offenders. As part of our recommended national anti-spiking communication campaign, the Home Office should send a clear message to offenders that there is no acceptable defence for spiking, that it can have devastating consequences for victims and that it is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.
We are pleased that the Government is considering the case for a separate criminal offence for spiking. However, the most pressing need is for police to collect more data on perpetrators and their motives for spiking innocent victims. The Home Office should commission research to feed into a national strategy for prevention, detection and prosecution of spiking.