Freedom of information requests reveal needle spiking figures have soared in Greater Manchester
A nationwide investigation has found that Greater Manchester has the highest rate of reports of needle-spiking in the country.
In the last five years, there have been more than 900 reports of needle spiking in Greater Manchester which accounts for nearly 40% of all cases across the country.
The report, carried out by John Leech, who led the local charge on the successful “Ask for Angela” scheme in 2017, uncovered that cases in Greater Manchester soared by over 200% in the last year. The report comes as a House Of Common Select Committee also concludes its investigation into spiking.
Young people have the right to enjoy themselves and return to the things we have all missed for so long
Cllr Leech found that there were 136 reports in the last year alone, a 209% increase from the previous year, as the region began to exit lockdown. Needle spiking and spiking injections are a rising phenomenon in the UK where people, mostly young women, are injected with unidentified sedatives.
This is usually done in crowded environments such as nightclubs, where they can be jabbed in the thigh without drawing much attention. They are predominantly used like date rape drugs to target people for sexual assault.
Unsurprisingly, towns and cities with large young student populations and vibrant nightlives appear to be most at risk. Greater Manchester, which ranks highest for cases, features two of the most attended universities in the country.
UK police forces received nearly 2,500 reports of needle spiking over the last five years, despite the country being in lockdown for vast periods of that time. Cases dramatically increased as the country exited the Covid lockdowns, with some areas reporting increases of up to 400%. Incidents across the country have more than tripled in the last year, from 234 in 2020 to an alarming 839 in 2021, despite the country still remaining in varying forms of lockdown.
When compared against non-Covid years, the figures are up significantly from 427 in 2017, 539 in 2018 and 397 in 2019. Police forces in Leicester, Lancashire, Thames Valley and Durham also reported that cases had doubled and, in some cases, tripled. However, most needle spiking crimes remain unreported, meaning the actual figure is likely to be much higher.
John Leech, who is leader of the Lib Dems in Manchester, began the investigation after having concerns following his involvement in the "Ask for Angela" scheme. In 2017, the counsellor for Didsbury West campaigned for Manchester City Council to implement the scheme in Manchester, which was rolled out across the country after a successful trial. Ask For Angela was a part of the wider #NoMore campaign, which aimed to provoke a culture change about sexual violence and abuse.
John Leech, who is currently campaigning in local council elections, said: “The alarming rise in drug spiking and the violent intent behind it is a devastatingly urgent national issue. As we exit lockdown, young people have the right to enjoy themselves and return to the things we have all missed for so long without the fear of being injected by predators.
“There is no question that this crisis requires immediate enforcement and prevention from nightclub owners and at venues. They must take a lead to increase security and prevention drastically.
“If they do not get a grip on this — and quickly — their license will be at risk.”
The report comes soon after Andy Burnham addressed a gathering of hospitality industry leaders to ask for their co-operation in rolling out the GMCA's Night Time Economy Strategy.
The strategy document does not address needle spiking specifically but does state: "We want a night time economy that is safe and welcoming for everyone, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, beliefs or background. Sadly this is not always the case. The increase in reports of drink spiking, substance misuse and gender-based violence indicate that our night time economy is not where we want it to be."
The Mayor of Greater Manchester and his night-time economy advisor Sacha Lord met with students back in November to address their concerns about drinks spiking. This followed a protest on Wednesday 27 October, organised by the groups Girls Night in Manchester and End Spiking Now.
At the time clubs pledged to up safety protocols, including searching people coming into their premises, in response to a boycott among activists and supporters.
Addressing the gathering at Three Little Words, Andy Burnham said: “Greater Manchester is pioneering a different conversation, particularly about women and girls’ safety out and about at night time because there is more to do on this.
“Sacha and I took a suggestion from students at the University of Manchester to bring through an anti-spiking partnership and you’ll see reference to that in the strategy being launched today.
“We’d like to work with more of you to build out the idea of that, whether we can provide more testing on sites, so that we can protect people who fear they may have been a victim in that way.
“That’s an important thing that we can do and we look forward to working with more of you on that.”
The worry is that while testing might uncover cases of drinks spiking, it will not deter and could even boost numbers of needle spiking incidents if perpetrators fear being detected by on-site tests.
Meanwhile, some have voiced concern that the apparent rise in needle spiking may cause more worry than is necessary. Professor Fiona Measham, director of The Loop - a Manchester-based drug-testing organisation -urged caution until more evidence was gathered about the prevalence of injection spiking. She said: “We know from research that there is a very low incidence of [drink] spiking, and we’d imagine therefore, the risk is even lower of spiking by injection."
What does the government say?
A House of Commons Select Committee has just concluded a report into spiking, saying: "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."
- All staff working at music festivals, including vendors, be given compulsory safeguarding training, and this be a requirement that licensing authorities consider when approving events. This might be done along lines similar to training provided in voluntary schemes in other licensed premises, such as Ask Angela or the licensing security and vulnerability initiative (Licensing SAVI).
- The Home Office should give the Committee a written update six months from the date of publication of this Report on progress towards creating a separate criminal offence of spiking.
- As part of its national communications campaign to say “Enough” to violence against women and girls, the Government should engage with the night-time industry, the education sector, and the health sector to produce a national anti-spiking communications campaign.
- As part of its wider violence against women and girls strategy, the Government should consider a support package for night-time industries to boost security measures including the recruitment and training of additional door security staff, particularly female staff.
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