Government response to the Home Affairs Committee report on spiking

Over the past few months, the police in France have received more than 300 complaints of spiking by injection - but they have not made any arrests.

Jim is an Associate Editor at Wonkhe

Doctors have noted red marks on some victims that seem to have been made by syringes. Victims report suffering memory loss or noticing injuries only later, and neighbouring Belgium has seen reports of similar incidents.

What’s odd is that prosecutors say that while victims may have been pricked, investigators have found no sign of drugs being administered this way, or of any sexual assaults linked to the incidents.

If needle spiking isn’t actually as “real” as its victims think it is, it’s likely tapping into a fear of incidents in the night time economy that are more easy to prove – via drink spiking and plain old sexual assault.

The panic appears to be similar to that seen in the UK last autumn, when groups of student campaigners took it upon themselves to boycott nightclubs calling for better safety measures. MPs debated the issue in November, hat prompted the Home Affairs Committee in Parliament to launch an inquiry in the new year, my colleague Sunday Blake reviewed the results from that back in April, and we now have the Home Office’s response to its recommendations.

As well as vague commitments on reporting back to Parliament on prevalence and a promise to step up comms during Freshers’, we at least are nudging towards local authorities taking sexual harassment and assault into account when considering licensing issues:

The Government accepts part three of the Committee’s recommendation and will review the guidance issued under Section 182 of the Licensing Act 2003 to consider whether we should require licensing authorities to consider the prevalence, prevention and reporting of sexual harassment and misconduct and gender-based violence in statements of local licensing policy.

One issue has been adequate and timely provision of forensic sampling – the committee had called for a duty on police forces to provide those who report spiking with rapid testing in response to spiking. That won’t be happening, but the government notes that there’s now a rapid urine testing service that is faster and less expensive than a full toxicology submission – that ought to be enough for SUs and universities to pressure local forces to use the capability that’s there.

The Home Office is also committing to preliminary discussions with a number of police forces on what they see as the factors which inhibit prosecutions and intend to have similar conversations with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Attorney General’s office. These will be included in a statutory report on spiking, due to be published no later than 28 April 2023.

One particularly odd thing is that nowhere in the response is any mention of the Department for Education’s working group on spiking, which was to be led by University of Exeter VC Lisa Roberts. Maybe the Home Office is just as unsure about what it will achieve as we were when it was announced.

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