Minister appoints V-C to lead anti-spiking group

Michelle Donelan, the minister for HE and FE, said she was determined to “stamp out” spiking in universities after a spate of attacks in the autumn of 2021

Michelle Donelan has announced measures to tackle spiking linked to students and universities, an issue she described as “close to her heart”.

Today, the minister for higher and further education hosted a roundtable on the issue with the Home Office and representatives from universities, law enforcement, victim groups and campaigners.

Donelan announced that a new working group – led by Prof Lisa Roberts, vice-chancellor of the University of Exeter – will draw up recommendations for the sector ahead of the autumn term.

The start of the 2021 autumn term coincided with a spate of spiking incidents, many of them linked to university campuses or students.

Universities are to introduce a policy on tackling spiking “by the end of the year”, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

Last month, the Home Office reclassified GHB and some closely related substances typically used in drink spiking as Class B drugs. The home secretary called for the reassessment of GHB, then a class C drug, in 2020 after the jailing of Reynhard Sinaga, a Manchester-based postgraduate student convicted of 159 sex offences, including 136 rapes. The Home Office said it was working with police and local authorities “to look at further action to tackle these horrific crimes, including considering the case for a specific criminal offence for spiking”.

Said Donelan today: “This is an issue that is very close to my heart, having had someone close to me spiked when I was younger, which had devastating consequences. So I know first-hand what a horrific crime this is, and I am determined to stamp it out.

“Recent incidents show that perpetrators are becoming more brazen in the way they are committing this appalling crime – which is why I am tasking a new working group to look at the issue more closely and come up with practical actions to stamp out spiking at our universities. I’ve been pleased to see innovative schemes already underway at the University of Exeter and Nottingham Trent University (NTU).”

Exeter is offering their students drink safety test strips, while NTU is delivering bystander intervention training to staff in clubs, bars and pubs. Similarly, Newcastle University is offering students drink test strips that can detect GHB or ketamine.

I am tasking a new working group to look at the issue more closely and come up with practical actions to stamp out spiking at our universities
– Michelle Donelan, HE and FE minister

In April, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee urged the Home Office to improve education and awareness of spiking as part of a national strategy to tackle the issue.

It warned there was scant official data on the crimes. What police data does exist suggests females account for nearly nine in 10 victims of drug needle spiking – and almost three-quarters are aged 18 to 21. Where official records identify an occupation of the victim, 81% were students. A separate survey of spiking victims conducted by the committee found that 68% were under 24.

The select committee also urged the Home Office to “expedite” a review of the “relative merits of the various spiking testing pilots being run by the police, universities and hospitals”, warning that, “in the meantime, victims could get false assurances”.

“As chair of the new working group,” said Prof Roberts, “I will work with partners to look at the evidence, best practice and incidents across the U.K. so that we can make practical recommendations to improve the night-time economy for students.”

She continued: “We are fortunate in Exeter to have very strong working relationships with local agencies such as the police, NHS Trusts, campaign groups, licensing and regulatory bodies which have been a key aspect of our approach to gender safety.

“This is obviously an issue for wider society that affects people from all walks of life, and we want to play our part in tackling social problems in our towns and cities. We also work with our own students to take a holistic approach to spiking and night-time safety from prevention to support.”

Read more: Students at risk from spiking without better national strategy, MPs warn

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