AT least two ‘needle spiking’ cases a month were reported to Cumbria police last winter, according to figures exclusively obtained by the News & Star.
And misunderstandings, an inconsistent response on the ‘front line’ and difficulties accessing timely testing could mean many more spiking cases have been missed, campaigners have warned.
A Government report acknowledged earlier this year that there is currently no way to adequately measure how prevalent spiking is in the UK – whether by drink, drug or needle.
But stark police data gathered by criminologist and Durham University professor Nicole Westmarland shows nine reports of needle spiking were handed by Cumbria Constabulary between September and December.
They are among more than 700 reports logged across England and Wales in that time.
Experts including Professor Westmarland and campaigners Spike Aware UK are calling for a joint, multi-agency response to all spiking cases, and for it to be recognised as a standalone crime.
They say an inconsistent approach from police forces and frontline healthcare staff can contribute to cases being missed and victims left feeling as though they may never see justice done.
Because it is not a specific offence, crime data on spiking is sparse and tests to identify cases are not routinely carried out at many hospitals, including those belonging to the North Cumbria Integrated Care Trust.
A spokeswoman for the Trust said its priority was to assess and respond to a patient’s medical needs.
She said substance tests would only be requested if it would help or change a patient’s medical treatment, adding: “More often than not, this is not required and therefore we do not routinely test for drugs.”
However, trust staff can escalate the matter to police if they believe there is an ongoing safety threat.
Dependent on timing, Cumbria Constabulary typically has urine samples tested to support spiking investigations.
While proof of a foreign substance in a person or drink can provide strong evidence to support a prosecution, samples have to be collected quickly.
But where they are not obtained, a force spokesman said cases can still succeed to prosecution if they are supported by other factors including victim and eye-witness accounts, medical or CCTV evidence.
He said spiking cases were fully investigated and all relevant lines of enquiry pursued, adding: “Each case will have its own circumstances and any investigation will explore all possible evidential opportunities.”
Colin Mackie from Spike Aware UK launched the charity after losing his student son Greg – who spent much of his youth in Cumbria – to spiking.
He said: “So many people don’t report what happens to them because they believe nothing will be done.
“We are pushing for a coordinated response across the system – from police officers to A&E staff.
“We want to see spiking handled the same way wherever it takes place.”
He said it would be beneficial to the NHS and police for medical staff to routinely check for the presence of foreign substances in spiking cases, adding: “It would also give victims more confidence to know they are being taken seriously.”
Professor Westmarland echoed Mr Mackie’s call for a coordinated and informed response to spiking from all potential responders, from the police to A&E departments, universities and nightclub doorstaff.
Amid testimonies from people who say they were treated as though they had imbibed substances voluntarily, she said her research was prompted by concerns spiking victims were not being taken seriously.
She said: “We must start from the position of believing victims.”