Richard Graham – 2022 Speech on Spiking Drinks

The speech made by Richard Graham, the Conservative MP for Gloucester, in the House of Commons on 26 January 2022.

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to create an offence of administering or attempting to administer drugs or alcohol to a person without their consent; and for connected purposes.

The subject of my Bill today, spiking, is both an old and a new issue, and one that causes considerable anxiety among the young, particularly teenagers, and their parents. Although drinks have been spiked for a long time, and chemicals were first used to poison and kill a soviet dissident in this country almost 50 years ago, the term “spiking” is relatively new, and spiking drinks happens much more frequently than it did. The phenomenon of spiking by injection at social events is both new and still mysterious.

Let me start with the context, go on to what is known, highlight what is less well known, and then lay out what the Government, Parliament, local police forces and local authorities are already doing and might do. Lastly, I will suggest what more could be done by Government. Our aim in this House is, as always, to protect our young and reassure the public. We can also send a clear message to those who think that spiking is fun. It is not. Spiking has a deeply unpleasant impact on many lives, and it is a crime that should be punishable in its own right.

For the context, I am grateful to many people: my constituent Rosie Farmer and her daughter Maisy; my own young office; colleagues, especially the former Lord Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Swindon (Sir Robert Buckland), and others here today with their own experiences and constituent cases; organisations in Gloucestershire; the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who is in her place, and her Committee and team; and Dawn Dines of “Stamp Out Spiking”, who has been on this case for a decade.

Spiking is not a far-away country of which we know little. It is happening all around us, and even to us. My hon. Friend the Member for Mid Sussex (Mims Davies) was spiked not long ago, as have been several other Members over time. Of course, many of us have children who have also been spiked. One colleague’s daughter was spiked twice in a nightclub. On both occasions, she collapsed and was carried outside by a bouncer and dumped unceremoniously on the pavement. We can all agree that that is not good enough, as would licensed victuallers associations around the country. There is much good practice to recommend, as I will go on to mention, but such incidents highlight both the grisly experience for a young woman and the frustrated feelings of her mother.

We can all relate to that, too, because where neither colleagues nor anyone in our or their immediate families have been spiked, our mailboxes tell us that our constituents have been. One colleague said:

“I know from my inbox that people of all ages and areas will be very pleased that this is being highlighted as it’s awful, can be embarrassing and is often very grim”.

She speaks for us all, as does another colleague, who wrote that

“speaking to police they find that most cases are young women with an unexpected response to drinks…I really worry about the fear that our young live under, and wonder whether this is another type of control of women.”

This not just about young women, although what data we have does suggest that in the vast majority of cases those affected are females. The worst spiking offender of all so far is Reynhard Sinaga—I am sorry to say, an Indonesian national—who was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years for using spiked drinks to sexually assault at least 48 males, many of whom did not know they had been assaulted until Mr Sinaga’s videos were discovered by the police. That confirms that there are male victims, and that there may be many more serious incidents, both on men and women, that we do not know about.

Colleagues from five parties are supporting my Bill today, and I hope the whole House will share my view that this is not a party political but an all-party and all-country issue on which reaching broad consensus inside and outside Parliament is the key to future success. We know already that there have been about 2,600 reported cases over the last five years and we suspect that that is the visible part of the iceberg, which means there is work to be done.

The last case in Manchester shows that there are laws that can be used to prosecute, and they have been used successfully in some cases. The two most relevant laws are the Offences against the Person Act 1861, which covers the use of noxious substances, and the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which covers spiking for sexual gratification. They are, as it were, the two bookends of the issue, but much in between is not covered, especially where it is not clear or cannot be proved what the purpose of spiking was or where the drug used cannot be identified, including because its effects have already worn off.

Most importantly, because spiking itself is not a specific crime, no one can be arrested simply for the act of spiking itself, nor is there enough data on spiking for adequate analysis and response, and at the moment it is not mandatory for hospitals automatically to report suspected spiking incidents to the police, as the National Police Chiefs’ Council lead on drugs confirmed to the Home Affairs Committee this morning. He and I, and I suspect all of us, would like that to change.

That is the context, those are the experiences and that is the gap in the law, which I think will surprise many of our constituents, and that is the main reason for making spiking a crime and therefore for proposing the Bill. As the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee recently said:

“There is not a specific criminal offence. If a drink is spiked or if an injection takes place, it is rolled into a different criminal offence.”

We need something more.

There is a conundrum about spiking to highlight. Spiking by injection is a relatively new phenomenon, but anecdotally, it is growing. Gloucestershire constabulary estimates that its usual historical number of reported spiking incidents of 10 to 12 cases a month rose to 48 in October, of which 10 were spiking by injection. That month coincided with the full reopening of universities, and I believe that is not a coincidence.

My constituent Maisy Farmer—I hope I will not do long-term damage to her reputation by describing her as a very sensible university student of criminology and policing—was behaving manically and completely out of character when recently returning home with friends from a nightclub in Worcester, and the next morning she found a needle mark on her arm that she suspected was evidence of having been spiked. Her mother, Rosie, contacted both her surgery and the Gloucester Royal Hospital A&E, but was told it was too late for tests. Maisy was signposted to sexual health services, which took some tests, and she received preventive inoculation against hepatitis B and HIV. The police, in turn, were very supportive, but without evidence of any substance in Maisy’s body or any known secondary offence, they could not do more. The point is that all these services reacted as they could and should, but if, as seems likely, spiking by needle had taken place, that is wrong and something must be done. The emotional stress alone is considerable. The question is what should be done.

If there is no evidence of a needle or substance and nothing on CCTV to follow up, it is difficult to know exactly what is happening. I understand why my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) said this morning that he is still confused by the prevalence of needle spiking without evidence; so, I believe, is the Policing Minister, who is in his place. However, that does not mean that nothing can be done—in fact, the opposite. Some of this is best done at a local level. The Gloucestershire police and crime commissioner’s recent successful safer streets fund award has partly been used to provide testing kits in nightclubs, which can be used by victims and others.

Then there is the question of immediate medical help. Gloucester City Council’s innovation of funding street medics means that immediate paramedic help is available. The local police’s Operation Nightingale, including an increased police presence, may be responsible for a sharp drop in incidents in December. Pooling the best local practice of such examples will be part of what the new national gold command incorporates in its recommendations to Ministers. I should mention that a drug often used in drink spiking, GHB, has been reclassified by the Government as a class B drug, meaning possession can result in a maximum five-year sentence. Last, but by no means least, is the work I referred to from the Home Affairs Committee. I hope that, should our constituents have more evidence to share, the Committee will welcome it, because we need all the possible light that we can shine, especially on spiking by needles.

Spiking is already a considerable issue and is getting worse. Spiking by injection needs more research and investigation. We could send a clear message today in support of the work of all local authorities and answer student groups from St Andrews to Truro, MPs from across the country, “Love Island” contestants and parents everywhere that we want to enlist in a more open partnership with communities by saying that we care and that we will do more. I hope the Bill will have the support of the nation.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Richard Graham, Sir Robert Buckland, Siobhan Baillie, Wendy Chamberlain, Wera Hobhouse, Dr Rupa Huq, Cherilyn Mackrory, Mrs Maria Miller, Robbie Moore, Liz Saville Roberts, Jim Shannon and Valerie Vaz present the Bill.

Richard Graham accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the first time; to be read a second time on Friday 18 March, and to be printed (Bill 238).