The shadow minister for universities has said there is “an information vacuum at the moment” about the number of spiking incidences linked to university campuses and students – and called on the government to instigate police, university and local authorities to find solutions.
Matt Western, Labour shadow minister for universities, said the Home Office should “call on chief constables to work with local authorities, those on campuses, universities and further education colleges to lead on and try to address this phenomenon”.
There have been reports across the country – from Devon to Fife – of incidences of spiking involving hypodermic needles linked to students and student events.
Speaking in the House of Commons, Mr Western – whose constituency is home to the University of Warwick – told MPs he knew of two women affected in his constituency. One had to travel to their home in Manchester “because she could not get the care that she needed locally”; another “is currently in A&E at University Hospital Coventry, being treated for a suspected spiking with a needle”, he said.
Rachel Maclean, shadow minister for safeguarding, also attended the debate. “We have 218 reports of needle assaults and injections since September,” she told MPs. “Over the same period, the police are aware of 250 drink spikings.”
Reflecting on figures collected by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, Mr Western said: “This is not necessarily an epidemic at this stage, but it is a seriously concerning phenomenon.” Cases needed to be “investigated quickly” and findings “shared across the country through different authorities, because there is an information vacuum at the moment”, he said. “We just do not have the data […] and we need to know the scale of the problem, particularly with the spiking by injection,” he added.
“There is an urgent need for the data,” Mr Western said, “but also for multi-agency meetings through the local authorities, the police, and universities.”
MPs discussed the phenomenon that has reportedly included incidences on university property or events organised by students’ unions at night-time venues. Many students’ unions have increased security and safety measures as a result of the media reports.
Student venues at the University of St Andrews have implemented random bag searches, patrols and testing strips for drinks and urine. Nottingham Trent University said its students’ union “has increased security at its venues” as a result of incidences in Nottinghamshire. University of Plymouth students’ union says it is sourcing more drink spiking test kits and is recruiting welfare assistants to support students during its club nights. The Guild of Students at Birmingham University said that after reports of a spiking incident involving a needle at one of its Halloween events, it was introducing metal detectors and a trial of passive drug-detection dogs.
The vice-chancellor of Leicester University urged students in a statement: “Be an active bystander: if you see something that concerns you, please take action by immediately alerting the venue and/or the university.”
Labour MP Rushanara Ali said some universities “are falling short and not taking responsibility by providing healthcare in clinics 24/7”. Young women, she said, “do not want to go to accident and emergency or to the police straight away; they need on-site, on-campus support that they know how to access, but that is not the case in many universities across the country”.
Another Labour MP, Tonia Antoniazzi, said her local A&E departments in South Wales have anecdotally recorded “a rise in cases [of spiking with needles] specifically as a result of university terms starting”.
“Universities must be working in concert,” she said, adding that response services “are needed 24/7 at universities”.
Jess Phillips, shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding, said she was in contact with an Oxford City Councillor “working with 25 young student freshers who have been spiked in recent months”. The freshers “were all deeply reluctant to report it to the police, saying that they did not want the hassle or were worried they would not be taken seriously”, Ms Phillips continued.
A majority of undergraduates think all students should have to pass an assessment “to show that they fully understand sexual consent” before freshers’ week, a Youthsight survey this year suggests. The news followed reports the Office for Students instructed universities in England in April to urgently review how they handle complaints of sexual assault, misconduct and harassment after a raft of testimonies were published on the Everyone’s Invited website earlier this year.