Thousands of spiking incidents emerge ahead of freshers’ week with vapes used to target victims

The government said it will not create a specific offence for spiking – despite committing last year to look at new legislation ((MBI/Alamy/PA))
The government said it will not create a specific offence for spiking – despite committing last year to look at new legislation ((MBI/Alamy/PA))

Thousands of incidents of spiking have emerged in England and Wales ahead of freshers’ week kicking off at universities – with vapes now a target for spiking.

New data from the National Police Chiefs’ Council, seen by The Independent, reveals there were 6,732 reported spiking offences between May 2022 and May 2023 – including 957 needle spiking offences.

Figures show there were an average of 561 reported spiking offences per month during this period – with the policing body stating the data includes modified vapes and food which have been spiked.

Campaigners have warned that the figures are only the tip of the iceberg as many victims do not come forward as they fear not being taken seriously or feel too much shame.

Helena Conibear, chief executive of the Alcohol Education Trust, a charity which distributes drink tests and information to students across the UK, told The Independent: “We have heard of people unknowingly using vapes which contain THC or spice in them.

“Very little is known about vape spiking as is it a new phenomenon. We are very much in the dark about how it operates.”

Rosie Smith, who is studying at the University of Manchester, said she was spiked at a nightclub while visiting her sister in Durham last October.

The 20-year-old said: “After only two drinks I lost all control of my limbs and ability to talk. I was trapped within my own body and left powerless.

“My mental health was dramatically impacted after I was spiked and I didn’t report the incident to the police due to many other students I know not being believed or being turned away.

“Spiking is a terrifying and sadly prevalent crime which has a long-lasting impact on the victim, family and friends.”

She said the spiking ordeal has “completely” changed her attitude to going out as she explained she worries about her friends a great deal.

“I don’t lose the same inhibitions now on a night out,” Rosie added. “I don't feel as carefree. You start doubting the people around you, which is really sad.”

Previous data from police forces in England and Wales shows there were almost 5,000 reported needle and drink spikings from September 2021 to September 2022 but these figures did not include spiked vapes.

Ms Conibear said food has been spiked with similar substances to what is found in non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks.

“Time after time victims report to us that bouncers or staff left them outside, told concerned friends that the victim is drunk or denied that spiking had taken place on their premises,” she added.

“Our other concern is how A&E deals with spiking cases as there is no duty to test and victims are often just sent home and told to report to the police or victim support”.

Ms Conibear explained studies demonstrate most drink-spiking victims never report the incident and “feel let down by medical services”.

She added: “Between 70 per cent and 90 per cent of those spiked didn’t report it at the time, thinking they wouldn’t be believed or taken seriously.

“Much better measures are now in place, thanks to the work of the police, good venues and unis – including rapid urine testing, dedicated welfare and active bystander staff, safe spaces at venues and drink-testing kits."

David Sidwick and Joy Allen, joint addictions and substance misuse leads for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, said: “Spiking is a heinous crime which puts lives at risk. This freshers’ term we are urging university students to be vigilant and look out for their friends.”

It comes after a woman recently told The Independent about her experience of being spiked, telling how she was backing a legal challenge against the government by campaigners who claim not enough is being done to tackle the crime.