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Big increase in drink spiking in London

The number of drink spiking offences in the capital has quadrupled since 2018, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

credit Aleksandr Popov via Unsplash

Drink spiking offences in London have roughly quadrupled over the last five years, new figures reveal.

Met Police data shows that while there were 497 offences related to drink spiking in the capital in 2018, the number had risen more than 300 per cent, to 2,066 offences, by 2022.

Data for 2023, which runs up to the end of October, states that there have been 1,788 offences so far – meaning that this year’s total could be even higher than last, once November and December have been accounted for.

Only 57 such offences were met with criminal charges this year, though this is up from 33 last year and 15 in 2018.

The Met said it has created a “bespoke London policing response” to tackle the problem, and that an increased public awareness of the issue could mean that more offences are being reported to them than in previous years.

The figures were requested by Unmesh Desai, a Labour member of the London Assembly.

Desai, who represents Barking and Dagenham, Newham, Tower Hamlets, and the City of London, said the statistics are “very worrying, especially as we know that it reflects only those incidents which have been reported – the true figures are probably much higher”.

There is no single offence that covers spiking. Instead, a range of more general offences can potentially be used to prosecute perpetrators, such as the offence of ‘administering a substance with intent’.

This means that the Met’s data on spiking-related offences in London only provides a rough indication of the scale of the problem – and some crimes recorded in the figures will not involve spiking at all.

Desai said: “I urge the police to try to bring more prosecutions. The Met are trying to rebuild trust and confidence in their work, especially from women and the LGBTQ+ community – groups we know are disproportionately targeted by drink spikers.”

He added that as well as holding perpetrators to account, “more must be done to prevent drink spiking from happening in the first place”.

In 2022, there were 438 drink spiking offences recorded in Westminster alone – about 21 per cent of London’s total that year. The borough includes Soho, known for its nightlife and especially for its LGBTQ+ venues.

Westminster was followed by Hackney with 126 offences recorded and Lambeth – which includes Brixton and most of Clapham – with 117. The fewest were recorded in Sutton, with 14 such offences.

“The police must continue to work with bars and clubs to train staff and raise awareness of the signs of spiking through their Safer Business Network,” said Desai.

“I want to see more businesses sign up to this, making sure that predators aren’t welcome in their venues. I will continue to work with the mayor and the Night Czar to see the results of these schemes – and to see how we can step up the obligations of business owners.”

A Met Police spokeswoman responded: “We have looked at the national learning around spiking and created a bespoke London policing response that aims to provide a clear, unambiguous process which supports the public and provides us with the best opportunity to capture evidence.”

She said officers have been working to raise awareness of the issue by distributing posters and stickers to venues. The materials contain information on what people should do if they think they’ve been spiked and how to submit an online crime report.

She added: “New guidance for officers, which centres on the initial investigation of spiking offences, has also been published to improve on our investigations and identify perpetrators.

“These factors, as well as an increase in public awareness of the issue, may have contributed to an increase in reporting.

“Incidences of spiking thankfully remain rare, however we would advise people not to leave your drink unattended and not to accept drinks, vapes or any substances from others you are not well acquainted with. If you see anything suspicious, report it to bar staff or police. If you witness a crime in progress please call 999.

“Anyone who suspects they might have been spiked is urged to report it to police as soon as possible so that we can obtain any time sensitive evidence needed to assist in the investigation. If you are in a bar or club you can report it to a member of staff who will assist you.

“It is not a crime to have illegal drugs in your system (unless you are driving) so do not let this be a barrier to reporting to police. This information however, is vital in terms of obtaining the correct medical support and treatment.

“All allegations of spiking will be recorded and assessed by officers. In all spiking cases, the early capture and preservation of evidence is crucial to our investigations.”

A spokesman for mayor Sadiq Khan said: “The mayor is working closely with his Night Czar, the police and a wide range of partners to make London’s night-time venues a no-go-zone for perpetrators and those attempting to cause anyone harm.

“Any allegation of spiking is taken extremely seriously by the police who are committed to working with our night-time venues – many of which have received specialist training to recognise and help prevent these incidents.

“But it’s clear that more must be done to identify and arrest perpetrators of this predatory crime. The mayor is fully committed to supporting the ‘New Met for London’ plan, to overhaul the way the force deals with offences involving women and girls, this includes providing better training for officers, more resources for specialist investigative teams and focused action on the worst offenders so we can build a safer London for all.”