Spiking in the UK 

The announcement of Nottinghamshire Police that ‘on the spot’ urine tests and metal detector wands are to be utilised in an effort to address ‘spiking’ incidents in Nottinghamshire is welcome.[1]  In recent weeks the NPCC has revealed that there have been 198 reports of drink spiking in addition to 24 reports of incidents involving a needle[2].  This of course is likely to be a fraction of the overall total that have come to police attention. Surveys with students by Anglian Ruskin University have revealed 81 of 91 respondents had been spiked or knew someone who had been.[3] Demonstrating the scale of the problem is needed amidst growing anxieties of young people.

Anecdotal evidence from students, friends and families reveal a widespread problem with stories of young people who have reported alleged spiking to night club staff, health providers and police often assumed to be drunk with no action taken.  Some have suggested that instead they have simply been removed from premises by night club staff.

Spiking renders a victim highly vulnerable to sexual attack, other forms of violence or accident. At present there is little information on who the perpetrators are or what their motives might be. Earlier research has suggested motives of trying to sexually assault someone or commit another crime, to manipulate or as a prank.[4]

Whatever the motivations of offenders the action of rendering a person highly vulnerable to violence, attack or accident must be treated with the level of seriousness it deserves.  When acid offences became highly prevalent in the UK the government responded by raising sentences for carrying and using acid as well as tightening regulations around its sale.[5]  Similarly, the government, the legal profession and police must turn their attention to the growing problem of spiking outlining its seriousness. Educational initiatives have a key role to play in ensuring that perpetrators are clear that this behaviour is criminal and prison sentences may be invoked.

Currently, potential criminal offences include s24 of the OAPA which carries 5 years in prison.  S24 covers unlawfully and maliciously administering or causing to be administered or taken any poison or other destructive or noxious thing with intention to injure, aggrieve or annoy the person taking the substance.

S20 of the Offences Against the Person Act might also be available.  The actus reus is inflicting GBH which is deemed to be serious harm[6] and includes physical and psychological harm.  The GBH can be caused in numerous ways the word ‘inflict’ is taken as meaning ‘cause’ in relation to psychological injuries and potentially indirectly causing physical injuries.[7] The mens rea denoted by the term ‘maliciously’ means the defendant must intend or foresee some harm[8] emanating from their actions albeit they do not need to see ‘serious harm’.[9] In spiking cases it would appear that defendants will have seen the risk of some harm from their actions particularly given that the action runs the risk of reducing the victim’s physical and mental faculties and may affect them even more adversely if they have a pre-existing medical condition.  The law on causation in offences against the person adheres to the principle that one ‘must take one’s victim’ as you find them.[10]

Of course, a key issue here is finding evidence of the assault and linking it to actual perpetrators.  Obtaining and storage of samples including urine samples must be prompt albeit even here finding usable evidence may be problematic.[11]

This is why raising awareness about the criminality of these practices and use of the criminal law has to be supplemented by practical preventative measures which should be introduced immediately in pubs, bars and nightclubs across the UK.  Venues in Nottinghamshire and elsewhere are often part of schemes such as ‘Good night Out’ or ‘Pub Watch’.  A ‘good night out’ should be a ‘safe night out’ and venues must take ownership of the problem – tamper proof drinking vessels, searches for sharp instruments and training for staff to support young people that might be affected is essential.  Recently young women have staged ‘A Good Night In’ to send a message to night club venues that they want action not platitudes.[12]

Other steps in the right direction would be to provide safe spaces in cities and towns for young people affected to report, be tested and looked after.  Guardianship and street pastor schemes are also to be encouraged. Notably such schemes may be of assistance to all young people ejected from nightclubs who are either intoxicated through drinking or spiking or presumed to be intoxicated.  The tragic murder of Libby Squires[13] and accidental drowning of Euan Coulthard[14] may have been avoided through such measures.

Protecting our young people in towns and cities particularly those with university populations should be an urgent priority for all public institutions in the UK.

 Dr Loretta Trickett is an associate professor at Nottingham Law School

[1] https://nottstv.com/on-the-spot-urine-tests-used-to-help-detect-nottingham-spiking-incidents/

[2] https://inews.co.uk/news/drink-spiking-nearly-200-incidents-on-nights-out-reported-to-uk-police-forces-in-last-two-months-1265396

[3] https://theconversation.com/drink-spiking-why-so-little-is-still-known-about-this-horrifying-trend-170421

[4] https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/vio-vio0000060.pdf

[5] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-40621303

[6] Saunders [1985] Crim LR 230

[7] Ireland [1997] 3 WLR 534

[8] As under s24 OAPA 1861

[9] Savage [1991] 94 Cr App R 193, Parmenter [1991] 94 Crim App R 193

[10] R v Hayward (1908) 21 Cox 692

[11] https://theconversation.com/drink-spiking-why-so-little-is-still-known-about-this-horrifying-trend-170421

[12] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lTimrsJ4VBU

[13] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-humber-55767904

[14] https://www.thefreelibrary.com/Euan+Coulthard+inquest%3A+Durham+University+student+drowned+after+night…-a0542051827


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