Fewer than two per cent of spiking offenses recorded by police result in a charge, figures obtained by The Independent have revealed.
Several thousand closed investigations into injection and drink spiking across a near five-year period produced just 130 charges, data gathered from dozens of police forces across England and Wales show.
Most of the forces who responded had not charged a single person over spiking during this time.
Victims said they felt let down by investigations which led to nothing, while Labor said the findings were “empathic proof” the crime was “not being taken seriously enough” and called for an “urgent review” into how cases were handled.
An investigation by The Independent – which submitted Freedom of Information requests to all 43 police forces in England and Wales – looked at the outcome of drink and injection spiking investigations between 2017 and late 2021, with many responses providing information up to October and November last year.
Police had closed probes into more than 6,870 spiking offenses during this period, according to responses from 31 forces. Only 130 of these – or 1.89 per cent – resulted in a charge or court summons.
Dawn Dines, from Stamp Out Spiking UK (SOS UK), noted there were many more cases which do not get reported to police because victims feel shame or fear they will not be believed. The true percentage for incidents resulting in a charge “would be frightening,’ she said.
Steve Reed, the shadow justice secretary, told The Independent: “This is emphatic proof that this appalling crime, which is linked to rape, sexual assault and other violent offenses that most heavily affect women and girls is not being taken seriously enough.
“The lack of prosecutions for spiking forms a pattern of falling prosecutions of serious offenses that is failing women and girls.”
Bedfordshire Police had the highest charge rate for spiking investigations out of the forces who responded to FOI requests at just over six per cent, with 114 alleged offenses leading to seven charges. Dorset Police had the second-highest rate at 4.7 per cent, with nine charges from 190 recorded offences.
The Metropolitan Police charged 60 people from around 2,040 investigations – a rate of just under three per cent. Some of these charges, as with other forces, were for “alternate offenses” to the ones initially reported – although as spiking cases can be charged under several different offenses, it is possible some suspects may have faced related charges.
Leicestershire Police, Sussex Police and Thames Valley Police all had a charge rate of below one per cent.
Sixteen out of the 31 forces who responded to FOI requests had not charged a single person for a spiking offense in a time period spanning nearly five years, despite closing investigations into more than 1,300 incidents combined.
This included Surrey Police, Cumbria Police and Devon and Cornwall Police – all of whom said they take reports seriously. Northumbria Police, City of London, Kent Police and Merseyside Police also had a zero per cent charge rate between 2017 and late 2021.
Police forces noted their system for recording crime data may differ from others.
Speaking about why charge rates may be so low, anti-spiking campaigner Ms Dines said drugs used can leave a victim’s system within hours.
She said: “If you wake up, you’re disoriented, you don’t know what’s happened, you’ve got no memory, then you’re not going to go straight to the police station and say, ‘Please take my blood. ‘ or to the hospital.”
This was the experience of Nadia*, who was spiked on a night out in Birmingham in her first weeks of university last year.
She lost her memory after just a few drinks. For a few days afterwards, she suffered aftereffects that were “so heavy and draining”.
The 19-year-old went to the police after a few days and was told to do a blood test. “But as it had taken me over 48 hours to gain the energy and sense to contact them, it seemed unlikely anything would show in my system”, she told The Independent.
Nadia said her case has probably not progressed further without correct testing.
A National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) spokesperson said: “The substances used to spike drinks dissipate quickly and unfortunately, in a number of cases, due to delays in reporting these events, an allegation of drink spiking cannot actually be proven due to forensic difficulties.”
The NPCC urged anyone who believes they have been a victim or witness to spiking to contact police, insisting officers will investigate and take reports seriously, adding: “You should try and report it to police as quickly as possible to help officers carry out tests and gather the best evidence.”
Detective Stewart Dipple from Dorset Police said police often receive reports after “the window of opportunity for forensic recovery has passed”.
He also said the “reported victim is not routinely tested in hospital” which can make it difficult to work out if spiking has taken place. His force has increased its use of testing kits, he said.
A health leader told The Independent last year A&E departments also do not generally test people who fear they have had their drink spiked.
Ellie, a 19-year-old who did not want to share her last name, said she was taken to hospital last year after being spiked in London. She had passed out and been “violently” throwing up, but she did not have any tests conducted.
She never reported the incident to the police. “I knew my bloods hadn’t been taken and so felt as though I wouldn’t have had enough proof.”
The teenager added: “Both ambulance staff and hospital staff were treating me as if I was just another young drunk girl being brought in on Halloween.”
Ms Dines from SOS UK said she wanted to see more education for frontline staff – including in emergency services and in nightlife venues – to speed up the process for victims and ensure they get the evidence they need. It could also help to stamp out the crime in the first place, she said.
“This is such a difficult crime to prove,” the campaigner said. “But the more education we give on it, the more that the bar staff know, the security know, so they can look out to these sorts of things.”
Cassie Coulthard, a 23-year-old from Bristol, told The Independent she was accused of being too drunk by bouncers and a taxi driver who turned her away when she was spiked five years ago. “From the start, no one believed me,” she said.
Ms Coulthard went to hospital the next day and was told it was too late to do checks for spiking, as it would be out of her system – which she now doubts.
Police told her they would check CCTV in the Bristol club. She phoned back for an update after not hearing anything. “They said that they were closing the case – maybe a couple of weeks afterwards,” she said.
The person who spiked her was never found.
Clara* said she felt let down by police after she was spiked as a 29-year-old in north London in 2019, during which her bag was stolen.
“I didn’t hear anything back from them until a few months later when I got an impersonal ‘courtesy’ call for feedback on how they handled the situation, where I complained that literally nothing had been done,” the 32-year-old told The Independent. “And then I never heard from them again.”
Labor called “an urgent review into how the criminal justice system treats and investigates cases of spiking” – including into the adequacy of police investigations.
A poll carried out for The Independent earlier this year found four in 10 women said they did not think police would take them seriously if they reported their drinking had been spiked.
One in nine women surveyed also said they have had their drink spiked in the past.
Alan Collins, a partner at law firm Hugh James, told The Independent: “Victims may be oblivious until they start to feel the effects, and by this time the perpetrator will have moved on or blended into the crowd. This is the reality which makes it very difficult to detect and prosecute the perpetrators.”
He added: “Detection rates are so low because of the very nature of the crime, but this can only be turned around through education, and the hospitality industry taking a greater responsibility for what occurs on their premises.”
Many venues took steps aimed at tackling spiking this year after a wave of reports of injection spiking thrust the crime into the spotlight and nightclub boycotters called for greater action.
Nearly 1,400 reports of this was reported to police between last September and the first few weeks of this year, according to a police chief who warned of a “new phenomenon”. Figures obtained by The Independent reveal at least 114 such offenses were recorded between 2017 and 2020 by just over half of the police forces in England and Wales.
A government spokesperson said: “Reports of spiking are extremely disturbing and the police are taking this issue seriously, dedicating both local and national resources to investigating it.”
Spokespeople for Devon and Cornwall Police and Thames Valley Police said the forces take spiking reports seriously and launch proportionate investigative responses.
Temporary Superintendent Nick Dias from Sussex Police said it takes spiking reports “extremely seriously” and has been “proactive in implementing preventative measures” with venues.
A Surrey Police spokesperson said investigations are launched and inquiries carried out as soon as it receives reports.
Assistant Chief Constable Neil Hutchison of Nottinghamshire Police said last year the force investigates every report and was committed to working with and supporting victims.
A Kent Police spokesperson said: “For every incident reported a thorough investigation is carried out in order to identify those responsible and provide support and assurance to victims.”
Detective Inspector Ben Dyer from Merseyside Police said it set up a dedicated investigation team last autumn to respond to spiking reports – which are “extensively investigated” by officers,
A Cumbria Police spokesperson said: “There are complexities with such investigations, however we encourage anyone who feels they may have been a victim of such an offense to report it to us.”
A Met spokesperson said drink spiking offenses falls under different categories – including “administering poison to injure” or “administer substance with intent” – which makes data collection complex. “We have also issued specific guidance to officers on evidential recovery related to spiking allegations,” they added.
Other named forces were approached for comment.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.