From Autumn 2021 there has been an 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 with partners have responded swiftly to these reports. This short guidance note draws on examples of good practice in response to spiking allegations. It is not intended to provide a detailed guide to safeguarding in the night-time economy but aims to provide a brief overview of spiking, suggest some preventative actions licensed premises and licensing authorities can take, highlight some best practice case studies, and share a checklist that the LGA would encourage licensing authorities to consider.
- ensure you are engaging in partnership working schemes locally
- check you have referenced partnership schemes and training packages in your statement of licensing policy
- check you have referenced spiking prevention and tackling sexual harassment in your statement of licensing policy
- run a communications campaign to clearly demonstrate that your council takes a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment and spiking.
In response to the increase in reports of spiking, the Home Affairs Select Committee launched an inquiry to understand the scale and prevalence of spiking and the effectiveness of the response to it. The committee’s report contains several recommendations that are relevant to licensing authorities, and we have referenced them throughout this guidance note.
What is spiking?
Drink spiking is when someone puts drugs or alcohol into a person’s drink without their consent. It can include putting alcohol into a non-alcoholic drink, adding extra alcohol to an alcoholic drink or slipping prescription or illegal drugs into an alcoholic or non-alcoholic drink. It can be difficult to tell whether a drink has been spiked, as substances used for spiking usually have no taste, odour or colour. Needle spiking is when someone injects a victim with a substance using a hypodermic needle (or other form of administration such as a combi-pen).
Drink spiking has existed in the UK for many years and police data suggests it occurs most often (although relatively rarely) in the night-time economy. Recorded crimes for drink spiking have increased every year between 2016 and 2019, with 1,903 crimes that could be related to spiking reported in 2019. However, many believe that spiking is an underreported crime, and that the true figure of spiking occurrences is likely to be much higher. The Home Affairs Committee recommended that the Home Office takes steps to improve data on the prevalence, scale and dangers of spiking to improve understanding of the issue.
Spiking is an awful crime that can affect victims’ physical and mental health, their emotional wellbeing, and can have lasting repercussions on their lives. The Home Affairs Select Committee called for urgent improvements in reporting, investigating and prosecuting spiking incidents to improve support for victims and to act as a deterrent. The LGA is supportive of this recommendation.
Recommended actions for licensed premises
Many licensed premises work incredibly hard to ensure that their customers can enjoy a night out safely and deter perpetrators. To support licensed premises, several industry associations produced a factsheet which includes recommendations and some resources for the hospitality sector on how to respond to and prevent spiking. The LGA would recommend that licensed premises:
- Ensure all reports of spiking are acted upon and that all incidents of alleged spiking are recorded and reported to the police. It is also helpful to the police if staff:
- obtain full details of the affected person reporting the incident, including a description of what they are wearing as officers will want to track them on CCTV
- can provide as detailed a description of the suspected perpetrator as possible, if known, including clothing
- can provide an approximate time of the incident and the location within the premises where they believe it occurred
- can secure the drinking vessel(s) that is suspected as containing the ‘drug’ so this can be tested at a later time.
- can seize any drinking vessel that the suspect may have been using.
- Ensure the health and safety of the customer, which could be by calling emergency services, ensuring they are with trusted friends who will look after them, offering assistance if needed, and providing a safe space for the customer.
- Ensure appropriate training is provided to relevant members of staff.
- Review searching procedures and amend as necessary, as well as reviewing how often toilets are inspected, as victims of spiking have been found in there. Premises should also review the functionality of any CCTV and ensure it is not obscured.
- Consider providing information (such as posters) regarding drink spiking in the premises.
- Consider if it would be useful to provide anti-spiking bottle stoppers and protective drink covers. It may also be helpful to see if drug testing kits have been made available in your area by the police or council.
Canterbury City Council
Canterbury City Council’s licensing policy clearly takes a zero-tolerance approach to sexual harassment. The council is clear that, under the prevention of crime and disorder licensing objective, it expects licensed premises to take steps to prevent spiking and sexual harassment and suggests a number of preventative measures venues should consider, such as training of staff, effective CCTV and membership of a Pubwatch scheme. The policy also clearly defines what it regards sexual harassment to be to enable effective enforcement where allegations of sexual harassment occur in licensed premises. The council requires licensed premises to have a duty of care policy and that all staff are trained in how to support a person who is vulnerable due to the effects of drugs or alcohol. As part of this, the council expects licensed premises to provide a safe space within their venue for customers who are vulnerable due to the effects of alcohol or drugs so that they are not put at risk outside the venue. The policy also calls on licensed premises to prevent the possibility of drink spiking by offering various anti-drink spiking products to customers and reporting spiking incidents to the police immediately. Where venues have not met the standards outlined in the licensing policy, the council has worked with them to provide advice and guidance on how to improve. If they do not make improvements, the council will take action through the licensing committee. For example, one premises was displaying negligence and repeatedly not looking after its clientele which led to a serious safeguarding incident. In response, the licensing committee drastically reduced the premises hours so it could no longer operate as a nightclub and also added conditions around staff training. The premises has now improved and is a well-run venue, and as a result the council has increased its hours.
Additionally, Canterbury has an anti-spiking campaign to raise awareness about how to prevent spiking and the importance of reporting instances of spiking. The Community Safety Partnership is also leading a ‘zero tolerance and expect respect’ campaign which aims to prevent sexual harassment in licensed premises. This signposts victims to support and offers bespoke training on tackling harassment to licensed premises.
The council works in close partnership with a range of organisations including the police, licensed premises, the Business Improvement District (BID) and universities in the city to ensure residents are able to enjoy a night out safely. The council also promotes the Ask for Angela scheme to all licensed premises, and is joining the Best Bar None initiative, as well as having an active street pastors and street marshal scheme. All Canterbury taxi and private hire vehicle licensed drivers need to have safeguarding training, which has been effective. For example, there have been reports of drivers taking vulnerable passengers to the reception at their halls of residence so staff could take care of them, rather than taking them straight to their room. The community safety team has also worked in partnership with other organisations to develop the connected routes scheme. The connected routes are designed to help students get between the university campus, the city centre and accommodation safely. There are a number of 24-hour refuge locations and the routes are monitored by emergency service patrols, as well as CCTV. The routes have been designed to avoid dark secluded alleyways. There is also a lit routes map, which provides information on where streetlights are and where street pastors and marshals are patrolling in the area to ensure people can get home safely after a night out. These schemes have the added benefit of keeping people away from residential areas late at night and therefore reducing noise complaints.
York City Council
York City Council places a high priority on safety in the night-time economy. The licensing authority adopted a new statement of licensing policy in 2022 which clearly outlines steps the authority expects licensed premises to adopt to prevent spiking and keep customers safe. The policy encourages applicants and licence holders to engage in national and local schemes that promote customer safety, such as Pubwatch, Ask for Angela, North Yorkshire police’s WAVE training package and registering with Neighbourhood Alert to receive updates on policing matters relevant to the local community and night time economy. The policy clearly outlines its expectations about staff training, and requires staff to be aware of the risks of lone customers leaving the venue if they are vulnerable, about how to act on reports of unwanted contact between customers, have the details of local taxi and private hire vehicle firms and be willing to book transport for the customer if needed, and if the venue is in close proximity to the River Ouse, staff should have knowledge of water safety and display signage at entrances about customer welfare and safety.
York council prioritises partnership working to manage the alcohol focused economy in the city. The licensing team participates in frequent multiagency meetings, involving the police, the BID, licensed premises, the city’s universities and various council departments, to share intelligence, discuss how to make the city safer and coordinate days of action and other enforcement activity. Through these meetings partners identified an issue with university students being vulnerable in the city due to the effects of alcohol, as well as an increase in reports of spiking. As such, partners worked with the university to ensure they now have a dedicated team working in the night-time economy who ensure that students can get home safely and receive care when they are at their halls of residence. Additionally, the council has strongly recommended that licensed premises have a student welfare member of staff present on student nights who are able to support anyone who needs help. These members of staff are trained in how to support someone who has been spiked, are able to help care for students and will call emergency services where required. The council also worked with licensed premises within the city centre to co-produce the code of conduct which is displayed in licensed premises to give a clear message to customers about what conduct will not be accepted within the venue. This has been a helpful tool in tackling anti-social behaviour in the city centre.
In response to an increase in reports of spiking in the city centre, the council worked with the police to write to licensed premises and provide advice about how to prevent spiking from happening. They also sent communications materials to venues, such as posters to display, to raise awareness of spiking and discourage perpetrators.
Bristol City Council
Bristol City Council has a range of tools to tackle spiking and harassment in the night-time economy. Partnership working schemes are clearly highlighted within the council’s statement of licensing policy, and the policy is clear that it will add conditions mandating measures such as CCTV and staff training where appropriate. The policy also states that the council expects licensed premises to have regard to customers who may be vulnerable due to drink and/or drugs. In line with good enforcement practice, Bristol takes a pragmatic approach to licensing and works closely with venues to balance competing public safety priorities. For example, some premises may have licence conditions which restrict customers from taking drinks outside to prevent risks such as broken glass and this may be incompatible with spiking prevention measures, such as not leaving your drink unattended. Bristol has found adopting a proportionate and pragmatic approach, as well as good communication with venues, as an effective way of managing these tensions. It also takes care in how it presents these measures to the local community and sector to avoid the perception of victim blaming or premises blaming and focuses on measures which disrupt perpetrators.
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. The team has developed posters and other assets that venues can display in their venues to raise awareness. Crucially, these assets are designed to ‘fit in’ with the surroundings in a licensed premises to increase the likelihood of them being used. The campaign has had some early successes. The materials are in 155 venues across the city, the police force has allocated a dedicated resource for forensics testing as well as developing a clear process on how to deal with reports, and the campaign has successfully raised broader awareness of spiking amongst the public. Moreover, there was an arrest for spiking within the first four days of the campaign launching. 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. The council places a clear emphasis on working collaboratively with venues to improve practices where there are allegations of spiking, rather than revoking or suspending licences. The council has also provided drink testing kits and urine testing kits to licensed premises 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.
The council has a range of resources to tackle harassment in the night-time economy. They have developed the women’s safety charter which is aimed at employers with a female workforce who are at work between 6pm and 6am. It is intended to enable organisations to prioritise the safety of women both in the workforce and customers of Bristol’s night-time economy. It is a practical guide to accompany a citywide training programme and invites Bristol’s businesses to sign up to the charter and take a zero-tolerance stance on the harassment of women. The charter has developed seven commitments and detailed advice on how best to implement them:
- Champion: Appoint a named contact for this work who will champion and drive forward any action taken.
- Communicate: Create positive, public/staff-facing communications campaign, both online and in your space(s).
- Support your staff: Make clear the routes for reporting unacceptable behaviour while at work and supporting cultural change.
- Support the public: Communicate routes for reporting unacceptable behaviour while using your service or space at night.
- Training - responding: Provide staff training on the issue, including what to say/do and not say/do, and any relevant policies.
- Training – recording: Ensure staff training on information sharing and appropriate recording of details.
- Design for Safety: Audit your spaces and adapt them to promote a safer environment and reduce risk of crime and sexual misconduct.
The council and partners have also launched the ‘It’s Not Ok’ campaign to tackle harassment against women. The campaign will train 1000 people in the night-time economy to identify and stop all kinds of harassment of women, encourage people to be an active bystander and call out unwanted behaviour, and ask men to consider ‘Am I being a creep?’ through a poster campaign throughout night-time venues which will invite men to reflect on their behaviour.
The LGA has also compiled a number of case studies which highlight best practice in managing the night-time economy and encourages councils to promote safeguarding and implement approaches that have been proven effective.