274 Reports But Zero Confirmed Cases: What We Know About 'Needle Spiking' in the UK

It's been over two months since the first reports of people being spiked via needles in UK clubs first emerged, but no cases have so far been officially confirmed.
GettyImages-451813203 (1)
Photo: Stock image

Despite a wave of reports and widespread fears about needle spiking in the UK over the last two months, hard evidence about the phenomenon remains thin on the ground, leaving potential victims in the dark about what actually happened to them.

Latest figures from the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC) shared with VICE World News identified 274 reports of injection spiking across the UK since the beginning of September. The NPCC emphasised that these are reports, and not confirmed cases.

Advertisement

VICE World News has previously reported that a lack of standardised protocol between the police and NHS – as well as a poor response to requests made 14 years ago for services to better provide for spiking victims made by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs – have left many victims with few answers about what happened to them, on top of depriving them of crucial opportunities to retrieve evidence.

However, amid viral social media posts, club boycotts, Home Secretary Priti Patel asking police chiefs to urgently address the problem and an MP comparing the issue to terrorism in Parliament, there have been as yet no confirmed cases of needle spiking. 

Police in the UK have so far confirmed one case of someone being jabbed – but not necessarily spiked – with a needle, in Sussex, southeast England.

Advertisement

Investigations there continue into whether the needle actually contained any drugs for spiking. Sussex Police arrested a 28-year-old man from Hove on suspicion of “needle sticking” on October 31 and are awaiting toxicology tests. They said there had been 31 reports of "needle-sticking" in Sussex since the 19th of October and 63 reports of drink tampering since the 1st of October.

Humberside Police said they are dealing with “one confirmed incident” involving spiking by injection, although the force have not confirmed whether this refers to the start of an investigation or if they have any firm evidence.  

But so far, no police force has confirmed a case where someone has been injected with drugs intended to spike them, and no-one has been charged with an offence related to needle spiking.

There are yet to be any arrests related to reports of needle spiking in the two parts of the UK where the reports first appeared, Nottingham and Scotland.

In both Exeter, southwest England, and St. Albans, just north of London, police have made announcements clarifying that victims who had previously reported being injection-spiked were later found to have not been victims of any offences.

Advertisement

As of yet, a number of police forces including Sussex Police have said none of the reported injection spiking incidents had involved a secondary offence, such as robbery or sexual assault.

“Police forces are investigating incidents and continue to work with pubs and clubs to increase searches and guidance to staff,” National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Drugs, Deputy Chief Constable Jason Harwin told VICE World News.

What many people find confusing is that despite almost 300 reports of needle spiking, so few arrests have been made. Is this because victims are misinterpreting what may have happened to them or that police are not doing enough?

Professor Harry Sumnall, professor of substance use at Liverpool John Moores University, said this discrepancy could be due to several factors, including lack of evidence and the unpredictability of intoxication. 

“It is difficult to make sense of what is happening with regards to the alleged needle assaults,” he told VICE World News via email. He said low rates of prosecution compared to reports were common in drink spiking and rape cases due to difficulties obtaining evidence. Some drugs, such as GHB, are hard to detect if biological samples are not taken soon after the spiking incident.

“If an alleged victim does not present to police or medical services until the following day then the likelihood of detection of most drugs is substantially reduced. Even if a substance is detected, identifying perpetrators, often in dark, crowded, environments, and prosecuting them, is not easy,” said Sumnall. “Unless the alleged perpetrator is caught in possession of the spiking substance, if there are no witnesses to the act of spiking then a defendant could argue that the substances were intentionally consumed.”

Advertisement

Sumnall said intoxication with self-administered drugs including alcohol can cause confusion. “I am not in any way casting doubt on victims’ experiences whatsoever, but intentional drug use or alcohol use that is later regretted, or unexpected psychopharmacological effects from alcohol may be interpreted as spiking. 

“We often assume that alcohol produces consistent intoxication effects, but the same amount of alcohol can produce different effects in the same individual depending upon a wide range of factors such as the environment in which it is taken, medicines that are being taken, menstrual cycle phase, and psychological state.”

In a Facebook Live on Friday, Detective Superintendent Kris Ottery from Sussex Police said that injection spiking “does concern us because of the increase in reporting. Thankfully as far as we are aware, none of these incidents have progressed to a secondary offence.” 

He added: “We are very keen to work out what it is that these people have been injected with”. 

This could mean that police forces are yet to identify what drugs were used in toxicology screenings. Drugs tests coming back negative, however, do not mean that victims have not been spiked; it could also mean that the drug had cleared their system by the time they were tested, or that a novel drug could have been used.

Advertisement

While services attempt to find answers and hold perpetrators accountable, reports about needle spiking in the UK appear to have been used by police in the US as an excuse for the chaos that led to the Astroworld tragedy in Texas. A British MP referenced the scare story in a parliamentary debate on nightclub safety last week. MP Matt Western said: “I am sure that many of us will have been horrified by the incident in Texas, which illustrates that this is not just a UK problem. There is a phenomenon and copycat behaviour.” He then said needle spiking must be treated “with as much urgency as terrorism”. 

Days later, Houston’s police chief confirmed that there was in fact no incident involving needles at Astroworld. 

VICE World News uncovered the lack of standardised protocol between police and the NHS for dealing with alleged drink or needle spiking incidents. A number of victims said they had been unable to get tested quickly for possible drugs in their system, depriving them of justice and the police of crucial evidence to catch offenders. 

Victims who believe they were injection-spiked have told VICE World News they have been frustrated with the speed of police investigations. Molly Hargreaves reported that she was injection-spiked in Oxford and reported this to A&E, where she says “they were rude and said it was a GP matter, and if I desperately needed to get tested, to wait four hours.”

Advertisement

“I left A&E as I felt like they weren’t going to do anything, as she also said how little they could do for me. I understand that they might not have found the drug due to it being just under a day after, but their lack of will was upsetting as I was still very ill going to A&E.”

The police collected a urine sample and are still waiting for results. A fortnight after Hargreaves believes she was spiked, the police contacted her to say that they were yet to check any CCTV because they first had to “make a timeline and ring my friends.” She is worried her friends may now no longer be able to give a good timescale of events. 

Chloe Ward, who reported that she was needle-spiked in Ipswich, said that the police were very prompt in taking a statement from her, but that when she contacted her GP to ask for a blood test the following day, she was refused on the basis “the drug probably being out of my system already.” 

She told VICE World News on Facebook: “I managed to get one [a blood test] three days after the incident,” and is now awaiting further news on her case.

She said that after sharing her experience on Facebook, other victims reported something similar happening to them and that it “probably means it’ll now be a bigger investigation so will take a bit longer to hear any updates.”

This week, the Home Secretary announced funding for a trial rollout of drink spiking kits in Bristol in south west England. They will be made available to all police officers and at 60 night-time economy venues in the city. 

But Adam Waugh, of drug welfare charity PsyCare UK, said that it’s important to be aware of the limitations of the kits. “Firstly, we know alcohol is the main substance used in spiking. Secondly, we know that spiking can occur opportunistically, and often involves a wide range of drugs, rather than just the narrow selection of drugs these kits test for.”

“Thirdly, there are big question marks about how effective these kits are at detecting even the drugs they say they can.”

Previous research on drug detection kits has found that the “use of drug detector kits by the public in the night-time environment needs further investigation and may create a false sense of security (false negatives) and undue concern (false positives) among kit users.”

Andrea Simon, Director of the End Violence Against Women Coalition, told VICE World News: “Too often we see concerns about spiking translate into women and girls being burdened with additional safety work to protect themselves. 

“Instead, we need to see action that focuses specifically on perpetrators and police responses that don't dismiss and minimise women's experiences.”