NEARLY 100 ‘needle spiking’ cases were reported to the region’s police forces last winter, according to figures obtained by The Northern Echo.
And misunderstandings, inconsistent ‘frontline’ responses and difficulties accessing tests could mean more cases have been missed, campaigners warn.
A Government report acknowledged earlier this year that there is currently no way to adequately measure how prevalent spiking is in the UK – whether by drink, drug or needle.
But stark police data gathered by criminologist and Durham University professor Nicole Westmarland shows 91 reports of needle spiking were handled by North East forces between October and December last year.
Professor Nicole Westmarland
They are among more than 700 reports received by forces across England and Wales in that time, according to Professor Westmarland’s research.
The scale of offending could be higher as spiking of any kind is not recognised as a standalone offence, meaning robust crime data is sparse.
Read more: The County Durham woman fighting for action after being spiked at 21
And campaigners believe many more cases go under the radar due to a lack of joined up working between authorities.
Spike Aware UK believe more incidents would be uncovered if hospitals – often the first to respond to victims – carried out routine testing in response to all spiking cases.
The Echo understands hospital trusts in the North East – including the County Durham and Darlington NHS Foundation Trust and the North Tees and Hartlepool NHS Foundation Trust – do not routinely test for substances.
Spokespeople for the CDDFT and North Tees said efforts are focused on treating patients for their symptoms, while forensic testing is a matter for the police.
Kevin Moore, clinical director of emergency care at North Tees, added: “Tests for specific drugs can take several days or weeks to return with a result, and would not impact on how we treat someone in our emergency department.”
Proof of a foreign substance can provide strong evidence to support a prosecution, and police do carry out substance tests – but samples must be collected quickly.
For there to be a realistic prospect of conviction, prosecutors would have to prove there had been an involuntary intoxication of the victim, according to a spokeswoman for Cleveland Police.
She added: “This would be very difficult to prove if there was no evidence of spiking.”
Greg Mackie died at 18 following a suspected spiking incident
Spike Aware founder Colin Mackie, whose son died in a suspected spiking incident, said police forces differ in their approach, as do hospitals, and called for a consistent multi-agency approach to ensure spiking cases are not missed.
He said: “So many people don’t report what happens to them because they believe nothing will be done.
“We are pushing for a coordinated response across the system – from police officers to A&E staff.”
Professor Westmarland echoed Mr Mackie’s call for a coordinated and informed response from all potential responders, including police, A&E staff, universities and nightclub workers.
The professor said her research was prompted by concerns victims were not being taken seriously.
Some, she said, had been treated by authorities as though they had taken substances voluntarily.
Professor Westmarland added: “We must start from the position of believing victims.”
Spiking cases are investigated thoroughly by the region’s forces, according to spokespeople for Durham Constabulary and Cleveland Police.
Durham has a dedicated team of detectives devoted to the crime and, like Cleveland, works with organisations across the force area to tackle the issue.
A spokeswoman for the force said: “These officers have scrutinised hours of CCTV footage, interviewed multiple witnesses and organised for the forensic examination of urine and blood samples.”
Both forces have urged spiking victims to report their experiences and seek support as soon as possible.
To report being spiked, contact police on non-emergency number 101 or 999 in an emergency.
For support, visit Spike Aware UK.
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