Surge in drink-spiking incidents reported in Bristol following launch of campaign

There was the equivalent of one drink-spiking report made almost every day over the past six months

A groundbreaking crackdown on drink spiking in Bristol has been hailed a success after reported incidents rocketed.

There were 198 cases recorded by the police in the last six months compared with only 39 for the whole of 2019, a council meeting heard.

The campaign in Bristol – the only UK city where the trial is taking place – is focused on catching the culprit, or ultimately stopping them spiking drinks in the first place, by launching into action moments after the crime has happened to gather vital forensic evidence.

Carly Heath, night-time economy adviser to Bristol City Council, which is spearheading the pilot in partnership with Avon & Somerset Police and Bristol City Centre BID (Business Improvements District), told the licensing committee that 155 venues had signed up to the scheme.

And she told the City Hall meeting on Thursday (June 16) that the rise in reported incidents was “significant” but had been expected because of the increased awareness as a result of the campaign, such as with posters in pubs and clubs.

Drink spiking can happen to alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks. (Pic credit: Tim P. Whitby / Getty Images)

She said: “One of our main priorities for this campaign was that we knew it was woefully under-reported from people being spiked on a night out, so we intended to have an increase in reporting.

“October and November were insane – there were 43 incidents reported in October and 48 in November.

“It has balanced out again now and we are averaging 15 to 18 per month but that is still significantly more being reported than before the campaign.

‘Don’t leave your drink unattended’

Carly said the age-old advice “don’t leave your drink unattended” was in direct conflict with some venues’ licensing conditions that stopped revellers taking their drinks outside to the smoking area.

“On principle, we shouldn’t have to be telling people not to get poisoned on a night out – it should be up to us to catch the perpetrators,” she said.

“I’ve been asked whether venues should provide drinks toppers, but that feeds into the narrative that it’s the person getting spiked whose fault it is for it happening because they made choices where they left their drink unattended.

“But really the only person whose fault it is is the person who has gone out to cause harm and poison another person on a night out, so for me it’s about having a perpetrator-focused approach and working collectively on a nut that has been very hard to crack.”

The campaign against drink spiking in Bristol was planned last summer ahead of venues reopening fully following the pandemic.

It really took off when the city council was awarded £282,000 by the Home Office last November to improve women’s safety and tackle crime against females at night.

This included money for drink spiking instant test kits for police so that victims could be tested immediately for substances in their bodies and vital evidence captured.

Change of law

The Government is considering changing the law to introduce a specific crime of drink spiking, which would be welcomed in Bristol.

Carly Heath told the licensing committee meeting that making spiking an offence itself would make it easier to prosecute.

She said: “The Home Office is deciding whether to make spiking an offence in its own right.

“Spiking is often bundled in with other types of crimes such as sexual assault or robbery but we know both from interviews with victims and conversations with operators that there are all sorts of different reasons and or motivations why drinks get spiked.

“Some people do it from a gender violence point of view, men also get spiked, people spike friends because they think it will be funny, people spike others they don’t like because of the humiliation, it can even be totally random.

“Having an actual crime that is drink spiking would be really helpful.”

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We recognise that there is more to be done, which is why we are continuing to drive forward this work to better understand and respond to incidents of spiking.

“This includes a new working group launched to tackle spiking attacks against students and working with law enforcement to consider the case for a new specific spiking offence.”