Tackling Spiking - Statement

– in the House of Lords am 4:44 pm ar 19 Rhagfyr 2023.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 18 December.

“With permission, I will make a Statement about the Government’s action to tackle spiking. Spiking is an insidious act with potentially life-threatening consequences. We know it constitutes a danger to people, particularly women, in nightclubs, bars, on student campuses, at festivals or in any social setting. No one should have to worry that a substance has been put into their drink or that they could be targeted with a needle. More than 5,000 cases were reported last year, and that is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg.

These offences have potentially devastating effects. First, there are the immediate physical effects, which can include struggling to speak or to stand up, loss of consciousness and hospitalisation, to name just a few. Secondly, there is the psychological trauma, which can manifest itself in a number of ways, including anxiety or, most acutely, shame about what happened and what may have ensued. The impact can last for months, years or a lifetime. Some will be victims of secondary offending, which they may struggle to recall, that may well be of a sexual nature. Thames Valley police told the Home Secretary and me just last Friday that spiking is the hallmark of the sexual predator. Anyone who has read the harrowing accounts of victims will understand why it is vital that we crack down on these crimes. We owe it to all of them to redouble our efforts, and that is precisely what this Government are doing.

As Members will be aware, the Government were required, under Section 71 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022, to produce a report on the nature and prevalence of spiking and the action we intend to take. Publication has been delayed, and I understand why the hold-up has been a source of frustration, but that delay has enabled the Home Secretary and I—both new in post—to take a step back and consider how best we can focus our efforts to address this crime.

We want the law to be crystal clear and for individuals to have no doubt as to their rights and remedies. We have concluded that there is a case for a legislative change to capture the modern and insidious nature of this crime. I can therefore confirm to the House that the Government intend to bring forward amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill that modernise the language of the Offences against the Person Act 1861. This will remove any ambiguity and make it clear that the offence covers spiking in every form, be that via food or drink, vape or by needle. We hope that this step will improve public awareness but, most importantly, encourage victims to come forward.

I will add two points. It has been said, and we of course accept, that the existing laws already cover the range of behaviours that incorporate spiking. While it is not in dispute that that is the case, we recognise that some of the existing offences on which we rely are not readily seen to cover spiking. We give the illustration of Sections 22 to 24 of the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which use the language of poisoning for nefarious purposes, which we believe we can clarify through this change.

By their very nature, spiking cases are complex. The work we have done tells us that there are particular challenges in identifying perpetrators and gathering evidence. To bolster our legislative plans, we have developed a package of practical measures to improve public safety. The police have already developed a rapid, lab-based urine testing capability, but we want to go further. First, the Home Office will be funding efforts to research the capability and reliability of existing rapid drink testing kits. There are never any guarantees with this sort of work, and we are only at the beginning, but to understand what is possible, we have to gather evidence on testing efficacy, and that is what we will be doing in the months ahead.

Secondly, additional funding will be provided to the police to run several spiking ‘intensification weeks’, which we have seen successfully deployed for other types of criminality, including county lines and knife crime. Thirdly, the Security Industry Authority, the regulator of the UK’s private security industry, has committed to introduce spiking training for door supervisors as part of its existing licence-linked qualifications. This will enable them to better and more quickly identify victims onsite.

Fourthly, we will support the police to roll out their spiking reporting and advice tool, to improve the quality of data. This enables the public to report cases of spiking quickly and simply, including anonymously if they so wish. It has been successfully rolled out across 20 forces as part of a pilot programme in England and Wales, and will be expanded to the remaining 23 forces shortly. Several other measures are detailed in the statutory report, but I am conscious of the time, so I will simply add that the report is available on the GOV.UK website and emphasise that we are strengthening our response across the board.

Before I conclude, I take this opportunity to urge the public to remain vigilant, particularly over Christmas. If anybody believes that they or someone around them has been spiked, they should report the incident to the venue and the police. I also want to offer my thanks to the campaign group Stamp Out Spiking and Members on both sides of the House. I will not mention them all, but I particularly thank my honourable friend the Member for Gloucester, Richard Graham, my right honourable friend the Member for Chelmsford, Vicky Ford, the honourable Member for Bradford South, Judith Cummins, my right honourable friends the Members for Romsey and Southampton North, Caroline Nokes, and for Witham, Priti Patel, my honourable friend the Member for Mid Sussex, Mims Davies, and the right honourable Member for Kingston upon Hull North, Dame Diana Johnson, who have campaigned so assiduously on this issue. Their insight and commitment have been instrumental, and they will no doubt continue to provide support and scrutiny as our work progresses.

Spiking is an appalling, predatory crime that ruins lives. As we have shown time and again, this Government will do everything in their power to protect the public and reduce violence against women. I commend this Statement to the House.”

Photo of Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Shadow Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 4:52, 19 Rhagfyr 2023

My Lords, yesterday’s Statement on tackling spiking was welcome. It said that 5,000 cases of spiking had been reported last year—as it very realistically said, this is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg. As it also said, spiking is not just the spiking of drinks but by needles and sometimes of food. It is a prevalent problem that needs tackling.

The danger is to everybody, but it is particularly to young women in nightclubs and bars. There is very often a sexual motive to those who perpetrate spiking. The other point the Statement made, which is worth saying, is that it is often a trigger to secondary offending as a result of the spiking itself.

I have spoken to a number of young people about this and every one of them knows about spiking. They either know it through their own experience or that of close personal friends. Everybody who I have spoken to says it is an issue for undergraduates at universities, for example. They have all got their story to tell about spiking.

As a magistrate, I have dealt with spiking a few times over the last few years. However, on reflection, I have mainly dealt with cases where it is not the perpetrator who is in front of me in the court, but a defendant who claims their alleged criminal activity is because of the spiking. That is something for the court to try and disentangle, but from my own experience that is what I have actually seen in court. It must be quite difficult to bring these cases to court.

The other point worth making, which I am sure the noble Lord will be well aware of, is that the vast majority of young people who have experienced this do not report it to the police. They do that for a variety of reasons, but that is a common thread from what they have said to me.

In the Statement, the Government said that they are going to bring forward amendments to the Criminal Justice Bill that will modernise the language of the Offences against the Person Act 1861—clearly, that is welcome—and that there will be additional funding, which will be provided to the police to run spiking intensification weeks. The other undertaking within the statement is that the Security Industry Authority, the regulator of the UK’s private security industry, has committed to introducing spiking training for door supervisors as part of its existing licence-linked qualifications. One question for the Minister is: what responsibilities do nightclub owners have to try and stamp out spiking from their premises?

A further commitment of the Government is that they will support the police rolling out their spiking reporting and advice tool to improve the quality of data. We of course welcome these announcements as far as they go, but they are long overdue. I have had correspondence with the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, when she was a Home Office Minister, on exactly this matter, so I know that the Government are seized of the issue. Can the Minister say something about how much longer he expects it to be before the legislative changes which may be proposed are made, and how much longer it will be before any funding support which may be provided to the police will be made and get off the ground?

I conclude on a slightly different note. I am very conscious of the limits of changing the law. Of course, we must change the law to make sure there is adequate punishment and to recognise spiking in its many manifestations, but really, the best defence is information. As I said, young people are aware of this but are not necessarily aware of the best ways of defending themselves against spiking. It may be the responsibility of universities, and maybe also of police forces, but also of the Government to make sure that the right information is made available to young people to try to reduce this crime.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol

My Lords, I too thank the Minister for this Statement about understanding and tackling spiking, and indeed for the document which accompanies it. It is good that the Government are making a series of proposals. If I pick up where the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, finished, on the change of the law, that is a useful clarification because if the law—even though it is there—is not being used by the criminal justice system, it is failing. I hope we will all be able to get behind that amendment when it comes through in the Criminal Justice Bill.

When I read the report, my heart sank. There are some good points, and I will come on to those in a minute. However, there is very little emphasis on tackling the prevalence of behaviour by perpetrators. There is a mention at the very end of the recommendations in the document that prevalence will be part of trying to highlight spiking, including

“increased arrests, detections, and prevention activity taking place”.

However, that prevention activity is unlikely to change the mindset of a young man—it is usually a young man—going out with some drugs that he wishes to use to spike somebody’s drink or even to use a needle. It always worries me that victims are the ones who need to read up and learn about how they can best protect themselves, while nothing is done to attempt to change the culture of the behaviour of the perpetrator. It seems to me that that is a big issue. Can the Minister say what is planned on this? For example, are there advertising schemes? We must get the perpetrators to think that it is absolutely unacceptable even to think about it—but I am struggling to see that.

Having been a health spokesperson, I am interested in the research into the capability of existing test kits. I know that most of the current test kits involve using a urine sample, which is impractical at the time: you can find out only afterwards if you have one of those tests. If it is the equivalent of the lateral flow test that was developed during the Covid pandemic, it would be enormously useful—but 150,000 will not go very far. I note the wording in the document is very careful in talking about the plan “to begin research”, but we ought to put some urgency on this. If there are 5,000 cases a year that we are aware of, they are putting a considerable burden on not only the victims but the entire criminal justice system. It seems that this should be a bigger priority for prevention.

My final point is on the training programme. Noble Lords will know that I go on and on about training programmes in relation to victims and the criminal justice system. They are really helpful for upskilling staff in the night-time economy. I declare an interest that one of my children works in the night-time industry, as a security guard. I know that she would welcome some training to accompany the other training that she has on safeguarding and other matters; it would be extremely helpful. It would be useful for particular sectors that work very much with young people—universities and further education providers—as well as the night-time industry.

My real concern is that we need to get to the people who think that it is acceptable to perpetrate this crime. I do not see any of that in the Statement.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments. They are right: everybody deserves to feel safe when they are out enjoying Britain’s thriving night scene, especially over the festive period, when everyone’s social calendar gets a little busier.

The statutory report on spiking has been laid in Parliament and published on GOV.UK. As has been noted, spiking is already illegal, but we have listened and will change the law to make sure that spiking, as it manifests itself in the modern world and in all its forms, is clearly and comprehensively reflected in legislation. We hope that this will encourage more victims to come forward and report this often-underreported crime, which will then send a clear message that spiking will not be tolerated and that offenders can expect to face justice.

We have announced a package of new measures to tackle spiking, which, as all noble Lords will be aware, is an abhorrent crime and undermines the public’s right to feel safe in their communities. As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, noted, that particularly applies to women and girls. The measures range from equipping the police to intensify their proactive interventions to prevent offences, to empowering venue staff to respond, protect victims and collect vital evidence, as well as the rollout of a reporting and advice tool for spiking incidents, including anonymous reporting.

I will get to the specific questions asked of me soon, but it might be of interest to noble Lords to know that, between May 2022 and April 2023, the police received 6,732 reports of spiking, including 957 reports of needle spiking, as was referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. On average, the police receive a total of 561 spiking reports a month, which includes through needles, drinks and other forms. The majority of those come from females who believe that their drinks have been spiked, although spiking can and does affect anybody.

The measures that we are taking, which are non-legislative, are as follows. We are providing funding for the research into the capability of existing spiking testing kits, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, referred to, and the potential development of new kits for venues and the police to detect whether someone’s drink has been spiked in real time. That is not as straight- forward as it sounds. There are a lot of drugs that can be detected, many of which are perfectly legitimate—including quinine, which of course comes in tonic. That makes life a little complicated when we are looking at this space, but the work is being done and funded.

There will be funding to train night-time venue staff to promote better detection of possible spiking incidents, as well as training in supporting and collecting evidence. We are working with the Security Industry Authority on its commitment to introduce spiking training to its existing licence-linked qualifications, which all applicants for DS licences have to undergo. We are working with the police on the national rollout of the online reporting tool for spiking, which allows individuals to report incidents quickly, easily and, if they wish, anonymously. We are introducing the intensification weeks, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby; police forces will conduct additional work on spiking, similar to current initiatives for county lines drug trafficking and knife crime. We are supporting the higher education regulator, the Office for Students, in the delivery of any requirements for English higher education providers to prevent and address various offences, including spiking. The publication of new information and support pages will set out organisations’ roles and responsibilities in tackling spiking, as well as updating the statutory guidance that accompanies the Licensing Act 2003.

On specific questions, the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked what measures are in place to deal with premises whose irresponsible management, for example, might make it easier for offences such as spiking to take place. If there are concerns about how a licensed venue is being run, the police have the power under Section 76 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to issue a closure notice if there are reasonable grounds. There is also an expedited review process that allows licensing authorities to alter the licensing conditions granted to premises.

Mandating to carry out searches of nightclubs and so on is not quick or simple, but will require considerable consultation and potentially primary legislation.

On whether a new spiking offence would make it easier to collect data, for example, which the noble Lord mentioned, we have worked closely with the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which established Operation Lester to co-ordinate the national policing response to the crime. This has included ensuring that there is co-ordination between all 43 forces in England and Wales to centrally track incidents of spiking to gain a better understanding of the scale of the problem. That has demonstrated that we do not need legislation to ensure the consistency of recording and gain data insights from crime recording. Using the established network of crime registrars to develop central procedures can help to improve data capture more quickly when compared with the lengthy process involved in introducing and training law enforcement on the new offence. That is important work, and it is ongoing.

On timelines, we are in the early stages of developing the package. It is important that we do not overpromise and then underdeliver, but we will ensure that Parliament is well apprised of progress against these measures. The updated guidance for Section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 was published yesterday. The spiking information and support pages will be published this week, ahead of Christmas, and both are available on GOV.UK.

As of 14 December, the police’s spiking reporting and advice service has been rolled out to 20 police forces across England and Wales; it will be rolled out to the remaining 23 in due course. The vehicle for refreshing the legislation and the language around the legislation, as referred to in the Statement, is the Criminal Justice Bill, which is in Committee in the other place and will be with us at some point in the new year.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made a very good point about Christmas—everybody deserves to feel safe when they are out and about at this time of year. We recognise that it will take some time for these legislative and non-legislative measures to take effect, but there are obviously steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of spiking. It is encouraging to hear from the noble Lord that the young people he has spoken to are all aware that this is a problem. Young people need to watch out for friends and make sure they look after each other; never leave their drinks unattended; be cautious if they are given or bought a drink and consider accepting a drink only from people they know and trust; be wary of people reaching over their drinks; and alert staff and police immediately if they see anyone acting suspiciously around their drink or someone else’s. If they or a friend feel unwell, they should seek help from staff or call an ambulance immediately. These things are necessary; we should not have to say them, but they bear repeating.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked me what the Government plan to do to develop our understanding of the motivations of the perpetrators. A literature review has been carried out by a team from the National Crime Agency and the University of Birmingham, as part of the statutory report on spiking. It concluded that it is hard to determine the actual levels of spiking from the existing literature, so we are considering what more we can do to shed light on this as we move forward with the recent measures announced as part of the report’s publication. I hear what the noble Baroness says, and there is more to be said on that in due course.

I have already referred to the testing kits, to some extent. We are not committing to producing new spiking testing kits, but we are carrying out research into the capability of existing kits. First we have to identify whether they meet police requirements or whether something new is needed to help venues and police detect, in real time, whether a drink has been spiked. At this stage, it remains our position that the only reliable testing method that can detect the range of potential substances used in spiking and that can later be used in court is the rapid urine-testing capability established by the police. Obviously, that is not ideal and has to be done in a very short space of time. I go back to this point: we strongly encourage anyone who believes that they or someone around them has been spiked to contact the police as soon as possible, so that samples can be taken for testing.

As I have said, the majority of samples—51%—contain a drug of no concern or no drug at all. A drug of no concern is one that does not have a rapid sedative effect or cause confusion to a victim. The most common are paracetamol and quinine, which illustrates the difficulty with this particular kit.

I think I have covered all the questions that were asked of me. I appreciate the House’s welcome for these measures, and we look forward to delivering on them in the new year.

Photo of Lord Cashman Lord Cashman Non-affiliated 5:11, 19 Rhagfyr 2023

My Lords, I welcome the list of measures, on which we have now heard from the Minister, but point out that spiking affects people of all ages, and men as well as women. There was excellent coverage on “Channel 4 News” yesterday evening of a young man who was spiked anonymously and then contracted HIV. Of course, this happens not only in pubs, clubs and anonymously but in dating. In that respect, one must remember the murders by Stephen Port. I pay tribute to the sisters Donna and Jenny for getting justice for those who were subsequently murdered. What further measures can the Government take to address the institutional attitudes, often homophobia and biphobia, that prevent the proper investigation of spiking when it occurs not only in licensed premises but in prearranged dating?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Lord makes an extremely important and welcome point. It is a fact that young men are less likely to record incidents of this sort of thing, for what reason I do not know, although I imagine that embarrassment and shame probably play a major part. Education has to be a factor in this, and we have to make it clear that, if you suspect that you have been a victim of spiking, it is necessary to get tested as soon as you can.

We are dealing with the culture behind some of these aspects in a much broader context. The Angiolini inquiry, which is looking into various incidents that have happened within the police over the last two years, will deliver its results soon. I hope that they go a considerable way to improving some of the cultural failings that have perhaps led to these things.

Photo of Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge Baroness Owen of Alderley Edge Ceidwadwyr

My Lords, given that the data collected by the NSPCC found that student was the highest-recorded occupation of those who had been spiked, does my noble friend the Minister agree that the Government should work with universities and colleges to offer support for students and raise awareness when they are attending events in non-licensed private premises, such as student accommodation?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I thank my noble friend for her question. She is absolutely correct, of course. As I have already said, we all have a part to play in tackling spiking and it is vital that we do this collaboratively. The Government and law enforcement have engaged with the sector, both through the Department for Education’s spiking working group, which is chaired by Professor Lisa Roberts, the vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter, and as part of a range of freshers-related communications activity carried out this year and last. As part of its most recent phase, the Government’s behaviour-change campaign “Enough” has partnered with more than 30 universities in the UK and produced a range of bespoke online and offline communications assets, which look to speak directly to student and university scenarios. Spiking assets form part of this package of work.

I could go on, but I completely agree with my noble friend and there will be a lot more to say on this. A consultation is ongoing with the Office for Students, which is due to deliver its report at the beginning of next year. We will have more to say then.